by Matt Roberson · July 28, 2015
Isaac Byrne, Adam Belvo | Yvonne Alloway
“It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.” - Merle Travis
To call Butcher Holler Here We Come a “dark play” isn’t close. In every way possible, this fast-paced thriller is as pitch black as the tomb of coal and rock it’s characters find themselves trapped inside.
To start, there’s the lighting, by which I mean there isn’t any. Or not much at least. As part of The Tank’s interesting “DarkFest,” the smart folks behind this play were forced to illuminate the action without use of the rig hanging above.
And then there’s the story, which is probably the darkest part of all. “Five souls,” trapped underground in the rural hills of West Virginia. Five men, all plagued by ghosts and demons that had no trouble finding their hosts beneath the broken earth. Drug addiction, black lung, fresh tragedy, religious zealotry, and at least one anti-capitalist radical who may be responsible for the explosion that starts the play. It’s clear early on that not everyone is getting out alive. And for those that do, the path to freedom is going to be messy.
There’s a lot happening with this production, but none of it is as exciting and successful as this cast, who clearly enjoy working together under challenging circumstances. Lit only by small LED headlamps, each of the five effortlessly pull together bold physicality with clear emotion in creating and conveying characters that are distinct and equally fun to watch. And under the crisp, thoughtful staging of Leah Bonvissuto, the action spills across every inch of this tiny space, building to a finale that is at once terrifying and electric.
And though I found Casey Wimpee’s dialogue inventive but hard to follow and often too caught up in its own poetry, it is impressive the way his text works to create, and fuel, an atmosphere of chaos and discomfort.
Full disclosure: in the final scene, I closed my eyes, even though I couldn’t see a thing.
The fact that this small, headlamp-lit thrill of a show is happening mere steps from the “more is more” world of Broadway should not be lost on anyone. Theatre, regardless of budget or size, is about telling good stories in new and captivating ways. And by this standard, Butcher Holler Here We Come more than succeeds.