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Photograph: Michael BrosilowLara Phillips, Missi Davis and Kirsten Fitzgerald in The Butcher of Baraboo at A Red Orchid Theatre

The Butcher of Baraboo at A Red Orchid Theatre | Theater review

Meet a different kind of cleaver family in Marisa Wegrzyn’s gripping dysfunctional comedy.


Heavy-metal music fills the theater at the start of Marisa Wegrzyn’s 2007 drama. When the lights come up, Wisconsin butcher Valerie (Kirsten Fitzgerald) sits in her rundown kitchen, working on a crossword puzzle as a Barry Manilow mix-tape plays. That contrast of violent intensity and quiet introspection is at the heart of director Shade Murray’s gripping production.

Despite seemingly serious subject matter—family secrets are brought to light on the anniversary of Valerie’s husband’s disappearance—Wegrzyn’s script is rife with humor. Valerie lives with her 30-year-old daughter, Midge (Missi Davis); the two women know exactly which buttons to push to infuriate each other. Valerie’s cop sister-in-law, Gail (a riotous Natalie West), is convinced she had a part in Frank’s vanishing, while brother-in-law Donal (HB Ward) and his sweet but awkward wife, Sevenly (Lara Phillips), try to offer comfort to the family.

Grant Sabin’s set reveals a home in deteriorating condition, whose inhabitants would rather live with the decay than fix it. A piggy bank rests on an exposed wall frame where wallpaper has been stripped away—a small touch that shows the family’s attempts to cozy up a home that’s less than it used to be. In the title role, Fitzgerald dominates the stage with her imposing presence and remarkable emotional depth. Each moment feels urgent and important, whether she’s sitting in silence or holding a meat cleaver to someone’s throat.

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