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The Butcher’s Fantasies, Playwrights’ Center, at Loyola University Chicago, Kathleen Mullady Memorial Theatre. The plot is almost that of a Moliere farce: Luc, the town butcher, is content with his job and his television, but his wife, Pia, longs for the finer things. An evening at the local theater ends with their inviting an out-of-work actor into their home, ostensibly to give Pia lessons. But soon Luc too is neglecting his duties to write a play whose plot parallels his own menage a trois, which he’s now sufficiently sensitive to find disturbing.

The considerable humor in French playwright Victor Haim’s ironic look at art’s power to elevate the proletariat was diminished by a small opening-night audience–and even more by the menace inherent in Luc’s trade. Lest we forget it, he wears his bloody apron everywhere, even at supper. This generates a delicate but excruciating tension–a sense of foreboding heightened by Jack K. Magaw’s stark scenic design, Kevin Snow’s chiaroscuro lighting, and Sorin Brouwers’s paranoia-invoking sound design and original music.

Lending pathos to these lonely, alienated people are Paul Hofmann (in his best performance to date) as the naive Luc, Catherina Kusch as the passive Pia, and Brouwers as the artist required by circumstance to play the charlatan. The fate to which they’re condemned resonates in our minds long afterward, as the characters continue to haunt us.

–Mary Shen Barnidge