Killer acting propels this small-town tale of redemption seekers at American Theater Company.
We meet Andy (Audrey Francis) as she’s desperately trying to land a job at the local slaughterhouse, where old high-school acquaintance Rick (Eric Slater) is a manager. Andy, we learn, was recently released from prison. Rick doesn’t have anything to offer her in the office, but he could give her hourly work on the killing floor—an idea he prefaces with the question, “How do you feel about Mexicans?”
The work slaughtering cows is grueling and gruesome, but Andy’s so desperate to get back on her feet and reconnect with B (Sol Patches), her estranged, 15-year-old son, that she’ll take anything. B, declaring himself vegan, proclaims his disgust and resists her efforts to reconcile. He’s dealing with his own rejections by classmate Simon (Louie Rinaldi), a would-be rapper who, though white, feels a little too free to throw around the N-word with the biracial B. Simon is happy to use B as a source of weed and occasional blow jobs, but balks at B’s desire for a more emotional connection.
Not much more “happens” in Abe Koogler’s metaphor-driven character portrait, which premiered last fall at Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 and is receiving its second production at ATC. Indeed, in Koogler’s empathetic script and Jonathan Berry’s sharp-edged staging, it’s the richness of the characters and the acting that get Kill Floor’s blood pumping.
Even Darci Nalepa, in just two brief scenes as a woman in whom the intensely lonely Andy sees a potential friend, establishes a palpable arc. But the play belongs to Patches, a product of Chicago’s longstanding Free Street Theater who imbues B’s pain with unadorned honesty, and the knife-sharp Francis, whose Andy is forthright and unpolished in a manner that calls to mind the likes of Frances McDormand. The mother and son, like the cows in the slaughterhouse, seem to be on a grimly efficient track toward unknowable pain.
American Theater Company. By Abe Koogler. Directed by Jonathan Berry. With Audrey Francis, Sol Patches, Eric Slater, Louie Rinaldi, Darci Nalepa. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.