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Butcher carves up mysterious political thriller

By Liv Ingram, October 16 2014 —

When an enigmatic stranger shows up at a police station on Christmas Eve wearing a foreign military uniform, a Santa hat and a meat hook around his neck, his presence is a mystery. Since the stranger doesn’t speak English, uncovering his motives becomes even more difficult for the detective and lawyer at the station.

Butcher, a new play by 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama winner, Nicolas Billon, is a political thriller that explores the relationship between revenge and justice.

“I was always curious about the dynamic between the two concepts,” Billon says. “Does one negate the possibility of the other?”

The story of the stranger is unravelled with the help of a Lavinian translator. A fictional Eastern European language, Lavinian, was created specifically for the play by University of Toronto professors Christina Kramer and Dragana Obradović.

Billon says he chose an invented language to maintain a sense of neutrality.

“I don’t want the play to be about a specific conflict or group. Who is right or wrong doesn’t matter — what matters are the underlying questions about justice,” he says.

Kramer says she was interested in working with Billon to create a language for the play based on her interest in the literary and political uses of language. To create Lavinian, Kramer says a number of issues had to be considered during its construction.

“This particular language had to belong in a certain geographic place at a particular moment in history, so there were, in fact, a number of constraints,”
Kramer says. “One of the most significant challenges for us was to make a language that sounded credible, that belonged to the South Slavic language group, but which was not fully comprehensible to any potential viewers of the play.”

Billon and director Weyni Mengesha worked closely with Kramer and Obradović to
ensure that the context of the play allows for Lavinian to be understood. In active development since May 2014, Lavinian evolved alongside the play, with new words being added as changes to the script were made. The language currently consists of 850 words.

Although completely constructed, Kramer says Lavinian has roots in languages of the former Yugoslavia, such as Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin. English, Bulgarian and Macedonian were also involved with the creation of Lavinian.

“It is important that the audience does not think this language belongs to anyone in particular — it is intended to be both somewhere and everywhere,” Kramer says.

Butcher makes its world premiere as the first play in the Alberta Theatre Projects’ (ATP) 2014–15 Enbridge playRites Series of New Canadian Plays. Butcher runs until Nov. 1 at the Epcor Centre’s Martha Cohen Theatre. Students with valid student ID can buy $10 tickets for the Oct. 21 performance as part of ATP’s That $10 Ticket Thing program.

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