Ushers herd audience members into Minor Theater like cattle for the slaughter. And expectations get shattered even before the fall production, Slaughter City, begins as the crowd finds itself sitting beneath the proscenium arch where actors normally perform. In the balcony is a large painting of a severed cow head, which appears to be watching one’s every move. Racks of meat (flesh-colored sun gowns) hover from chains. This Minor slaughterhouse dreamscape is a major nightmare.
What makes Naomi Wallace’s play so different from popular, naturalistic plays is its dream structure. Director and Professor Carole Bellini-Sharp says that she chose Slaughter City to fulfill the Theatre Department’s goal “to stay ahead and challenge the Hamilton community.”
Bellini-Sharp has been directing plays aimed at shattering the audience comfort zone for 37 years. And senior Alison McLaughlin, the play’s time-traveling revolutionary, Cod, says that mission has been accomplished. To her, Slaughter City is not just a play but “a current event on campus” that forces performers and audiences to re-evaluate opinions about theatre and the racial, gender and ethical questions raised by the production.
Bellini-Sharp attributes the discomfort that the audience experiences to the skill and hard work of her actors. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she says. “You can’t get excellence without a lot of bravery and courage.” From junior Peter Oliver’s Brandon making love to a piece of meat to McLaughlin’s Cod exposing her breasts, the risks taken on stage contribute to a shockingly beautiful performance.
“We can’t escape, but they can’t either,” says senior Colin Wheeler of the proximity of actors to audience. The “intimate relationship” forged is, he says, “thrilling but dangerous.” Tonight, the line between spectator and performer is, indeed, slaughtered — a new and profound experience for all.