Signal Ensemble’s shocking political thriller explores the cyclical nature of crimes against humanity.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
The Nietzsche quote inside the program for Butcher, Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon’s intense, 90-minute political thriller that kicks off Signal Ensemble Theatre’s final season, is all too telling. The play hinges on truly monstrous themes—wartime violence, civil discord, retribution—and the end result is a twisty ethical debate that blurs the line between justice and vengeance.
The show starts with a jolt: An old man (Vincent L. Lonergan) in a strange uniform and a Santa hat is dropped off at a police station late at night on Christmas Eve. Around his neck is a butcher’s hook and a business card belonging to copyright lawyer Hamilton Barnes (Joseph Stearns). The on-duty officer that night, Inspector Lamb (Todd Frugia), can’t understand the old man’s incessant ramblings in an unknown, Slavic-sounding language, so he calls in Barnes to help explain his connection to this strange affair.
Barnes appears to know nothing about the old man, but once a city interpreter (Simone Roos) shows up to help with the investigation, the true horror begins to unfold. The old man turns out to be a high-ranking general from the fictional, genocide-torn country of Lavinia, and he’s being hunted by a group of survivors who seek revenge—or a sort of poetic justice, depending on how you look at it—against war criminals who slipped through the cracks in the legal system.
Billon is a master of building upon anguish and surprise, but Butcher isn’t an easy show to watch: It’s as gruesome as it is gripping, and in the end you’re left with disturbing questions about the monstrosity of man—and no clear answers.
Signal Ensemble Theatre. By Nicolas Billon. Directed by Bries Vannon. With Vincent L. Lonergan, Joseph Stearns, Todd Frugia, Simone Roos, Lauren Viteri. Running time: 90 mins; no intermission.