The Butcher's Daughter: Have Knife, Will Travel

Local Arts Reviews

The Butcher's Daughter:

Have Knife, Will Travel

The Blue Theatre,

through July 8

You have to be careful about the blurbs you see in promotional material. Like, one blurb for Refraction Arts' The Butcher's Daughter purports to be from "an informed source" and insists the play is "Alice in Wonderland meets Blade Runner." As if the word "blade" had anything to do with the excellent movie to which it was Hollywoodedly affixed. Tsk.

Unlike that pivotal sci-fi film, The Butcher's Daughter does include a blade -- a very definite blade. And, like that cybernoirish extension of Philip K. Dick's original story, The Butcher's Daughter kicks a good amount of ass.

Deanna Shoemaker's direction is big and bold and varied, incorporating many characters on four (or is it five?) different stage levels in the just-opened Blue Theatre. There are choreographed musical numbers spanning those levels and much use of poles and stairs and ceiling-suspended ropes for climbing and swinging and so on, and all this multi-tiered action adds depth as well as sensation to the design.

The choice of Stephanie Swenson to play the title character is precisely right. She brings a vibrant life to the role and is both believably threatened and threatening, a Little Girl Lost with a Big Mean Knife -- the sort of intriguingly twitchy desperado you might change buses to avoid sitting next to one day, then change buses again to avoid missing the next.

The musical bits, featuring compositions by Catherine Berry, are performed with vigor, at least, and help to further the plot and illuminate the characters while delighting your eyes and working their beat into your soles. They all are rendered with a live band in the loft above the audience, and the band plays so damned well, and most of the songs actually rock (in the way that songs with banjo and accordion can rock).

There is a puppet -- just one puppet, mind you -- but it glows in the dark, it bloody well fluoresces under the strategic UV light, and it's so big that it takes three actors to manipulate it. It explodes onto the stage and is conducted so skillfully that it'll unnerve you. Well, after a few seconds it'll unnerve you ... at first, it will freak you out.

The actors have no slouches among them, and the talents of Ron Berry (whose interpretation of one scene -- you'll know the one -- is Laugh-Out-Loud funny), Lindsay Doleshal, and Kelly McDaniel shine especially bright in this story.

Ah, this story. Jennifer Haley has crafted a fantastic tale for theatrical interpretation, a work that strikes chords on as many levels as the action occupies. You might think a girl born with a knife at the end of one arm wouldn't elicit so much revulsion and scorn, that the blade -- like the use of an imprecise blurb, say -- would be overshadowed by all else the person has to offer. Well, you might think that if you grew up in a world without jerks. But if you didn't, and you had a knife on the end of your arm, what would you do?

That question is answered in The Butcher's Daughter, and the solution is interesting to experience -- magical and dark and full of crafty ornamentation. But don't, for whatever reason, think this is one of those modernized fairy-tales-for-kids-that-adults-will-also-enjoy. No, this is fairy-tale territory, all right, but it's aimed directly at the grown-ups among us. Not exactly the sort of thing you'd bring a kid to see ... unless you want that kid to grow up to become Nick Cave, say, or Julie Doucet.

Another blurb on the well-designed poster refers to this show as "rollicking." And that couldn't be closer to the truth: This twisted, kinetic spectacle will rollick the hell out of you. And, y'know, it's good to be rollicked.

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