Guthrie's "Master Butchers" impressions glowing--except here

Love and carcasses: "The Master Butchers Singing Club" at the Guthrie
Love and carcasses: "The Master Butchers Singing Club" at the Guthrie
by MIchal Daniel
Perhaps you've never given it thought, but for those who have: the local critics all read each other's stuff (after we've filed our own, that is--idea contamination is to be avoided). So I sat down and read the notices for The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie, and found that my semi-negative opinion of the show is an outlier. It happens. And while I respect my colleagues' opinions, of course I think they're wrong.

Anyway, it's not as though I was out to draw blood. The show contains compelling acting by an excellent cast, and director Francesca Zambello pulls together a lot of disparate threads that could have spiraled out of control, and delivers a coherent take on a very sprawling story.

My primary beef was basic: the adaptation of Louise Erdrich's novel attempts to include everything along with the kitchen sink, including digressions, subplots, and far too many sequences in which chucks of storytelling are delivered as direct narrative address to the audience (if writers are supposed to show and not tell, how much more does that principle apply to the theater?). It's simply hard to invest viscerally in a show that speeds through this much time. It's an interesting experiment, applying such a directly novelistic sensibility to a stage drama, but in this case I don't think it works.

Others disagree, as they should, and no one from a critic to a first-time theatergoer should be reluctant to own her or his sincere opinion. And as for the critics themselves, if they agreed on everything, there would have to be something extremely awry with the system.

Here's a video of highlights from The Master Butcher Singers Club:

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