Street Corner Arts' The Butcher of Baraboo

This hilarious production of Marisa Wegrzyn's black comedy starts strong and just keeps getting funnier

Natalie Garcia (l) as Midge and Joy Cunningham as Valerie in The Butcher of Baraboo (Courtesy of Street Corner Arts)

A lot of stage shows get the bulk of their laughs in the first 10 minutes. The audience is fresh. They've got their wine, it's not too warm in the theatre yet, and they're eager for whatever might come along. Then inertia sets in, and the laughter turns into light chuckles or disappears altogether for the rest of the evening.

Not so on opening night for Street Corner Arts' The Butcher of Baraboo. The show starts strong and only gets funnier from there.

At open, Valerie (Joy Cunningham) appears in her bathrobe in a kitchen that hasn't changed in 30 years (great scenic design from Zac Thomas and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, who also directed). Her daughter Midge (Natalie Garcia) enters and pours herself a bowl of cereal. After a testy exchange about whose job it was to get fresh milk, Midge pours some soda from a two-liter bottle on her Cocoa Puffs instead. And that's how we roll here in Baraboo, a small Midwestern town that we can imagine in its entirety despite only seeing the inside of Valerie's house.

More of Valerie and Midge's crazy but believable family drop by for a visit. Valerie's sister-in-law Gail (Amber Quick) happens to be the town cop who suspects but doesn't do much to prove that Valerie did something to her husband Frank, who disappeared two years ago. Valerie's brother-in-law Donal (Greg Ginther) and his wife Sevenly (Kelsey Mazak) are in the mix as well, with problems of their own.

Marisa Wegrzyn's script is tight with all the best sorts of surprises. Street Corner Arts has cast the play well, too. Every actor rises to the occasion of his or her part. Everybody gives and takes in the moment. And listen, while nobody likes hyperbole, for real, Amber Quick is sheer brilliance as Gail. She's got superb timing and the force of immediacy, and I want more shows with her playing this character, or any other character, please.

This show was also my first time to see Carlo Lorenzo Garcia's work as director, and I hope Austin theatre will benefit from his direction again. Casting great actors is half the battle. The other half is empowering the actors to do great work, and Garcia has succeeded in doing both.

If there is any complaint to be made about The Butcher of Baraboo, it's that the ending felt like the actors just ran out of pages. There's meaning to how Wegrzyn concludes the story, but it's unsatisfying and abrupt, and nowhere near as fun as the first 145 minutes of the play.

That aside, The Butcher of Baraboo is a hilarious show full of great performances. It's a chance to see wonderful actors doing good work together.

The Butcher of Baraboo

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Dec. 21
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

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Street Corner Arts, Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Joy Cunningham, Amber Quick, Natalie Garcia, Greg Ginther, Kelsey Mazak, Zac Thomas, Marisa Wegrzyn

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