Family Butchers

A brooding, booze-sodden storm that's part ballad, part jig

In renowned Irish novelist and playwright Edna O'Brien's Family Butchers, receiving its American premiere at the Magic Theatre, a once-wealthy but now-bankrupt middle-aged couple, Jamie and Lil, await the arrival of four grown-up children for a long overdue get-together at the threadbare family seat. What should be a joyful reunion -- after all, one daughter has come all the way from Johannesburg to be there -- almost instantly degenerates into a brooding, booze-sodden storm of sibling rivalry, thwarted ambitions, and loneliness. The play might be set in another time and place -- 1970s rural Ireland to be precise -- yet it feels very much about the here and now: O'Brien's empathetic yet unsentimental portrayal of family strife seems as contemporary as it is eternal. One scene, in which Lil suddenly and inexplicably turns on her favorite daughter, Emer, feels out of place; nevertheless, director Paul Whitworth's fluid mise-en-scène coupled with fiery performances from all cast members -- Robertson Dean is especially dangerous as patriarch Jamie, a character who wouldn't seem out of place in a Eugene O'Neill play -- give the piece a quality that is at times reminiscent of a sad old ballad and at others a lively jig.

 
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