Slaughter City at Jackalope Theatre Company | Theater review
Naomi Wallace’s labor-rights fantasia is a labored affair.
Set in a slaughterhouse, Wallace’s 1996 piece could be read, if you’re in a generous mood, as a lyrical love child of The Jungle and Waiting for Lefty. But Wallace’s overpacked script, matched with Jackalope’s scattered production, makes for a labored fantasia on labor relations. The playwright introduces kill-floor employees Roach (Kristin Anderson), Maggot (Katherine Swan) and Brandon (Ryan Heindl) and a mysterious new scab named Cod (AJ Ware). Labor issues mix with lust among the carcasses, as young white boy Brandon has a thing for Roach, who’s black and 15 years his elder, while Maggot’s intrigued by Cod.
Cod, we learn, is doomed to jump Quantum Leap–style into every American labor dispute to play the opposition to the Sausage Man (Jack McCabe), a sort of trickster-god archetype of Evil Management. (The Sausage Man, exploiter of Cod, is also referred to as “Mr. Fisher”—get it?) The production is handsomely staged by Ahmed, with clever design work in William Anderson’s set and Melanie Berner’s meat-carcass puppets drawing a direct line between this future-dystopian slaughterhouse and the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, whose tragic place in labor history is invoked late in the play. But Wallace’s tall, unwieldy pile of themes and poetics proves a burden too heavy for Jackalope’s uneven cast.