Mad, wonderful, horrible, and sublime things are happening at a little theater on Exposition Avenue, and have been for quite some time. The Ochre House’s most recent, and twelfth original, production is Matthew Posey’s penny opera of the comedic macabre, The Butcher. Posey’s production is extraordinary, ravishing, and frightening, but in a brilliant toe tapping, whistling down a dark alley sort of way.
Posey writes and directs (and just about everything else) this Grand Guignol romp that takes equal parts “Kurt Weill meets Irish folklore,” suspense, backdoor shenanigans, a disemboweled talking pig puppet, and a live band, and mixes it into a horror tale painted as a musical comedy – and then peppers it all with liberal dashes of Sweeney Todd.
The dead simple story follows the titular butcher Zachary Blut (Posey), and his woe begotten wife Gerty (Elizabeth Evans) in war and famine stricken Kingston, Ireland. The lack of any good meat to vend causes despair for the Bluts until Zachary is able to obtain a pig (Kevin Grammer) that he intends to treasonously sell on the black market.
Castor and Pollux (Justin Locklear and Mitchell Parrack), a pair of blind, beggar brothers, become part of the story when Gerty takes pity on them only to have Zachary beat them out of the shop, which causes them to plot superstitious revenge for their mistreatment. A visit from meat inspector Cygnus Taylor (Grammer) adds to the hilarious tension of harboring an illegal swine.
The action takes place in the Blut Butcher shop/ abode, cunningly designed (Posey) more like an abattoir in its dark wood, rusty hooks and chains, and singular block table. It resembles a tight, basement torture chamber for the insane; however, Posey and company transport the audience far beyond the meager confines of a 10’ x 12’ stage with their craft.
The acting, no, let’s call it “the embodiment,” is passionate and superb. Posey’s Zachary is a sweaty brute of a “heart-troubled man” who dominates the stage with a powerful presence that is truly scary. Dark-eyed, and dusky-voiced Evans is able to play Gerty as the gloomy, beaten spouse who finally finds her courage with deft and alluring aplomb. Locklear and Parrack play the brothers as an amiable pair of blind songbirds until they are crossed, and then they have only bloody vengeance on their minds. They also play their sightlessness to broad comedic effect, and rare practiced authenticity.
Finally, Grammer’s talking Pig who starts the show off, and pops up here and there to dispense sage advice in an erudite, posh accent is a fascinating delight. Grammer as the Scottish meat inspector is written as a kilt-wearing cliché, but he is an entertaining one nonetheless.
The snazzy, workmanlike band of music makers and effectors of sound are Ross Mackey (guitar), Bobby Nazem (percussion), and Scott Shaddock (keyboard). The original music (Mackey), and lyrics (Parrack and Posey) create a perfectly dark mood, titillate, and further the story in clever ways. And Locklear’s costume design is an inspired vision of the gothic and grotesque with elements of leather and tatters.