By Adam Seidel; Directed by Valentina Fratti
Off Broadway, New Play
Playing through 10.30.15
Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 10.1.15
Lauren Luna Vélez and Jonathan Walker in Catch the Butcher. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Adam Seidel’s Catch the Butcher is a strange comedy about a serial killer and complacent captive learning to be “normal.”
On scenic designer Lauren Helpern’s unassuming park bench we meet Nancy (Lauren Luna Vélez, from Showtime's Dexter). It’s the park bench in the storage locker of every theater everywhere. She seems to be waiting for something—like everyone does on this kind of bench—and that special something happens to be a someone: Bill (Jonathan Walker). There’s not much I can get into here that wouldn’t be considered a spoiler but it’s safe to say that Bill turns out to be a notorious serial killer (known as the Butcher, yes, I’m getting there Dexter fans) and kidnaps Nancy, chaining her to a chair in her basement. Instead of the scary things that must happen in these situations, Bill is actually a pretty charming host and Nancy an all-too complacent guest. Not only does she seem to enjoy being captured, it seems to be what she has been waiting for her whole life.
Nancy's a desperately lonely woman, it seems. Bill’s a psychopath. And somehow they belong together, each bringing out the best in each other—er, sort of. Playwright Adam Seidel replaces cliché lines about falling in love with language of finding out what it’s like to be normal. He crafts some notably co-dependent characters in this bizarre play. Director Valentina Fratti keeps the story moving forward, but can't quite find a suitable tone.
Naturally this show has some elements of TV's Dexter. And much like the dubious final season of Dexter, Catch the Butcher is full of some choices that left me unsettled. I loved Vélez’s flawed yet sympathetic portrayal of Captain Maria Laguerta on the series. Here Seidel’s script gives her a thinly drawn anti-feminist character. Right from the start she bats her eyes in pathetic ways and lilts her voice in an irritatingly weak, pandering way. Even when the script asks her to pick up some steam, Vélez continues the act. You can’t help but enjoy her character’s conclusion just a little bit.
The equally decorated Jonathan Walker has some similarly structured challenges with the script that doesn’t carve enough room to really understand the meat of the serial killer he plays. Walker works hard to craft a three-dimensional portrait of this man who has a complicated ease, and his performance is compelling. But it’s Cherry Lane’s Artistic Director Angelina Fiordellisi that’s made the most of this play. She's wonderfully charming in an unassumingly dangerous way. Fiordellisi is the Texas neighbor I’m sure every Texan has, complete with a bundt cake and silky dialect.
Catch the Butcher feels sadly forced. It’s neither enough of a black comedy about serial killers, nor sexy enough for the bondage play it could be. And it’s got nowhere near the nuance it would take to make it a fascinating Genet-like power play. Much like the final season of Dexter, it just doesn't meet expectations.
(Catch the Butcher is presented at Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce St. through October 30, 2015. Performances are Mondays-Saturdays at 7:30. On October 17 and 24 performances will be at 5 and 9. Tickets are $46 and can be purchased online at www.cherrylanetheatre.org or by phone at Ovationtix: 866.811.4111.)