“‘The Butcher’ is like nothing else I’ve seen… It’s entertaining and smart, sure, but it also has the potential to change the way we think about religion and the seemingly insurmountable cultural divide. And it attempts to inject some humanity in the ‘us versus them’ mentality between Christians and Muslims, believers and non-believers.” — Charles Runnells, Fort Myers News-Press
“[A] play that is so good, I suspect it will be picked up by every major regional theater company in the country… [T]he discussions on the way home and late into the week following will say a lot about you and how much you love real theater.” — Sidney B. Simon, Sanibel-Captiva Islander
In 2006, the butcher and sole proprietor of the Super Halal Meat Market in suburban Springfield, VA ducked into the walk-in freezer to fetch some goat meat for a customer. When he returned moments later, the customer’s severed left hand lay on the floor by the meat saw, and a trail of blood led all the way out of the store. Witnesses said the customer had used the saw to cut off his own hand, proclaiming again and again that he was “not a terrorist.” He had done it, he professed calmly, “for Allah.” But what exactly had he done? And why? In the ensuing weeks, the butcher, his wife, a reporter, and one innocent family try to make sense of this ultimately bewildering (and all too true) event.
Productions: Gulfshore Playhouse (FL, 2015). Workshop and reading: Gulfshore Playhouse (FL, 2013); The Theatre Project (NY, 2013); Great Plains Theatre Conference (Omaha, 2011). Readings: Manhattan Theatre Works (NY, 2013); Theater J (DC, 2013); Mead Theatre Lab (DC, 2008). Developed in part with the support of a grant from Cultural DC.
About the Play
I’ve written at length about the multiple-year development path this play has taken. What I’ve not yet shared is why I’ve been so dogged in the pursuit of this story.
We are living in such radically polarized times… and I find them (as I think many of us do) a bit terrifying. What I’m scared of, though—to be perfectly clear—are the impulses I feel in my own heart to join in the angry mob on one side or another of so many hot-button issues and intellectual divides. (Pick a subject; it doesn’t matter which one.) I have to work hard at times to find the better angels of my nature and resist expressing fury to those with whom I differ on matters of political and social import. I don’t like how it makes me feel.
To the extent that the culture wars in which we’re living are religious in nature—and I happen to believe that’s true to a significant degree—I think we’re in grave need of the kinds of stories that help us humanize one another. We need to see “the other” (whatever that “other” might be to each of us) depicted on our stages with depth and generosity. We need reflective, even hopeful, narratives. And we need them now.
So THE BUTCHER, for me, is an attempt at a panacea. It’s the sort of play one will leave with a great stew of feelings and shifted perspectives, a great need for real conversation, and a renewed sense of personal reflection. It doesn’t offer anyone even a single easy answer, either. It needs to be digested slowly.
May it prove to be of some small value to our tested democracy.