- by Naomi Wallace
review in Oakland Tribune April 13, 2004 (Chad Jones)
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- Crowded Fire's 'Slaughter City' evokes nightmarish mooood
- IF Naomi Wallace's "Slaughter City" were a steak, it would
be a tough but flavorful T-bone cooked on the medium-well side.
- Wallace is a poet and a playwright. Her work trades in, among other
things, dream imagery, ghosts, eroticism and intense drama.
- It's no wonder her 1996 work "Slaughter City," about the
horrors of a slaughter house, makes its local premiere with San Francisco's
Crowded Fire Theater Company.
- In seven years, Crowded Fire has become the go-to company when you
want something challenging but well produced. Even if you have no idea
what's happening on stage (as in last year's world premiere of "'Maid"),
it's easy to appreciate the skill of the actors and designers involved.
- "Slaughter City," which opened Saturday at the EXIT Theatre,
is an intriguing mix of the obtuse and the accessible.
- In attempting to convey something about the American labor movement,
the soullessness of factory work and the effects of industry on the human
body, Wallace bites off more than she can possibly chew in 21/2 hours.
- But she tries, and mostly succeeds, especially in dealing with the
most intimate aspects of the physically demanding, emotionally deadening
work in a hog or cow slaughterhouse.
- Director Rebecca Novick handles Wallace's broad, bloody canvas well.
On one level, there's the reality of the work happening on the "kill
floor." Pegeen McGhan's simple set takes good advantage of the EXIT's
exposed brick walls to create an industrial feel. The same is true of Dave
Robertson's lights, which help smooth the transitions from the harshness
of the working world into the more abstract moments when time and fantasy
begin to merge in odd ways.
- At its best, "Slaughter City" focuses on a small crew of
workers that includes Maggot (Ellen Scarpaci), Roach (Mollena Williams)
and Brandon (John Atwood). They suffer the physical impact of repetitive
stress disorders, on-the-job injuries and labor disputes. The decent manager,
Tuck (Michael Wayne Rice), has worked his way through the ranks.
- But his goodness is eclipsed by the exaggerated evil of Mr. Baquin
(Paul Lancour), a boss whose office is inside a giant revolving rib cage.
The man thinks nothing of humiliating or sexually degrading the tough women
in his employ, and he's more than willing to lie to cover up the death
of a worker. He also happens to be slowly turning into a cow.
- Romance blossoms between Roach and Brandon, although race and a significant
age difference threaten to divide them. Maggot gets her first taste of
true love with Cod (Gillian Chadsey playing a woman disguised as a man),
a mysterious scab worker who crossed the picket line during the last strike.
- With Cod comes the play's more lyrical and less successful component.
Cod is the employee of Sausage Man (Alan Quismorio), a devil-like spirit
who sets fires -- literal and metaphorical -- to incite rebellion and sweeping
- Chadsey's ferocity and Quismorio's elusiveness go a long way toward
making this part of the play work, but it distracts from the more interesting
characters in the slaughterhouse and the ways they bond, fight and survive
the carnage of their daily lives.
- The cast, which also includes Juliet Tanner as the ghostly victim of
a factory fire, is completely committed to making this dreamlike -- occasionally
nightmarish -- play work on multiple levels.
- Ultimately, "Slaughter City" is a powerful, unsettling experience.
In one messy package, the play manages to be a tirade against worker injustice
and an erotic ode to the abused bodies of workers everywhere.
- Now that's a cut of meat you won't find just anywhere.
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