Usually, once the lights go out in the theatre, you know it’s time to sit back, shut up, and enjoy the show. For the most part, you’re the viewer, a non-participant. Theatre rarely takes on the roll of completely consuming the audience, and making them a part of the actual world on stage. We are separated by the fourth wall, and in most traditional spaces, it’s unavoidable. It’s the nature of the beast. But Aztec Economy‘s “Butcher Holler Here We Come” serves up an all new meaning to what to expect once the lights go out (although, you should still turn off your phone and shut up. You know, if you’re a decent human being).
An import of Brooklyn, New York, Casey Wimpee’s “Butcher Holler” is currently traveling the states, showing at whatever theatre will have them. Luckily for Tampa, Silver Meteor Gallery gladly offered up their space for Aztec Economy’s 3 night stint. The show follows a group of 5 coal miners trapped after a cave collapse in 1973 West Virginia. As the story progresses, and the survival supplies dwindle, the group finds themselves thinking the unthinkable and doing the unfathomable. All the while, you’re petrified that a knife is dangerously too close to your face. Intensity +10!
Upon buying my ticket (and/or getting the first of many candies/sodas/alcoholic bevvies), I am lead by a lovely coal miner with a thick accent directly to a seat. The entire theatre is rearranged. The fourth wall is gone. In its place is a giant chasm of raw space, surrounded only by chairs. Mining lights hang about the ceiling, and are eventually turned off, leaving only the faint, red glow of the exit sign. Suddenly, the floor rumbles, as indistinct voices scream. Then silence. Silence and darkness. This, my weary traveler, is the moment that defines the entirety of the play. “Butcher Holler” is at one moment, peaceful, and the next, chaotic.
The miners are mostly work buddies, save for two brothers, one of which spends most of the play unconscious. Each miner has their own life trauma, or secret they’re hiding. K-Bus (Adam Belvo) is a truly frightening drugged up former inmate, completely out of his mind. The brothers, Muskie Pope (Colt. W. Keeney), and Leander Pope (Adam Laten Willson) are just as equally terrifying, perhaps moreso because of their sadistic and ruthless natures. Jet (Cole Wimpee) is self-righteous and opinionated, and feels a duty to change the world of all its wrongs. Hiccup (Isaac Byrne) is precious, and sad compared to his comrades, clinging to God, and looking for the best in others, even if there isn’t any goodness to find. Knowing one another for as long as they have still doesn’t prepare them for dealing with each other during the crisis.
The relationships between the miners progressively begins to spiral into oblivion as each finds themselves without water, food, and oxygen. Every second they spend confined in the darkness, leaves them drawn within their own minds, bringing out heightened hallucinations, inspired by forgotten memories, or clandestine pacts (and in one case, plain old drugs). Their stories weave in and out of the present day, to past times. Their headlights flash from on to off, leaving a dull silence in the room, and signifying a change in location, or time. The melding of all spaces and times, makes it even easier to get lost in “Butcher Holler”, aided by the fact that every seat in the audience is fair game for the actors to move around and through.
My seat was particularly spectacular (although, I suspect they all were in their own way). It allowed me to be very near for some ultimately tense and terrifying moments, made all the more intense by the fact that I was no more than a foot away from a bloody knife, or rusty pipe. Or that the ghoulishly illuminated faces of the actors we made all the more haunting as they descended into madness from a distance I could reach out and touch. At some point (I can’t recall when exactly), the play melts away, and I was no longer the expectant viewer I entered as, but had become an unwilling participant in a series of events I have no control over changing. I was just as helpless as the miners trapped underground. Being able to feel that desperation created an environment that can only be experienced. Words just don’t do it justice.
“Butcher Holler Here We Come” ran from February 19th-21st at Silver Meteor Gallery.
Tickets: $15, $12 for student, senior, & TTB members. 813-300-3585 for more info.