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There’s no avoiding feeling sorry for Andy, the plucky central character of Abe Koogler‘s new drama, receiving its world premiere courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater’s emerging artists strand, LCT3. Released from prison after serving a five-year sentence, she finds herself barely making ends meet while stuck in a dehumanizing job in a slaughterhouse, largely estranged from her rebellious 15-year-old son and fending off the not-so-subtle advances of her married boss.
If this seems like a checklist of the travails to be found in a gritty domestic drama, that’s exactly how it plays in Kill Floor. That the evening is largely compelling nonetheless is a testament to the talents of actress Marin Ireland, who invests Andy with a heartbreaking mixture of defiant toughness and poignant vulnerability that has you rooting for her throughout.
It’s certainly true that Andy can’t get a break. Landing a job on the killing floor, where she participates in the mass slaughter of cows, she attracts the derision of her half-black son, “B” (Nicholas L. Ashe), a vegan who sneers that her new employment makes her “just like the Nazis.” When she eagerly brings home some video games, albeit of the vintage variety, to her cheap apartment to encourage him to spend more time there, he says he’s outgrown them.
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“Don’t want to waste my time, is all. Life is short,” he says condescendingly.
Meanwhile, she struggles with the demands of her new job skinning cows, which too often are not yet dead. Her boss, Rick (Danny McCarthy), promises to help get her a promotion to the front office, although his no-strings-attached claim doesn’t feel credible.
Even when Andy makes a much-needed friend in Sarah (Natalie Gold), a mother of three married to an airline pilot, the relationship quickly falls apart due to the unbridgeable socioeconomic gap between them.
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B has his own troubles. As if being estranged from his father and separated from his mother wasn’t enough, he’s in a strained, semi-abusive relationship with Simon (Samuel H. Levine), a hip-hop-loving white schoolmate who doesn’t mind calling in sexual favors from B even while denying that he’s gay.
So when Rick plaintively asks Andy at one key moment, “Are you happy?,” it’s not surprising that she gets worked up. It’s a question that none of the troubled characters could answer affirmatively, although the playwright at least provides a measure of hope toward the end.
To its credit, Kill Floor sometimes avoids predictability: Rick, for instance, is far more vulnerable and decent than the mere sexual predator he might appear to be. But the play has a schematic quality nonetheless; the frequent scenes involving the two young men feel particularly forced. Director Lila Neugebauer succeeds for the most part in bringing out the work’s more sensitive aspects, and Ireland once again demonstrates that she’s one of the finest young actresses on the New York stage. But despite the strong efforts of everyone involved, too much of the play feels like heavy lifting.
Cast: Nicholas L. Ashe, Natalie Gold, Marin Ireland, Samuel H. Levine, Danny McCarthy
Director: Lila Neugebauer
Playwright: Abe Koogler
Set designer: Daniel Zimmerman
Costume designer: Jessica Pabst
Lighting designer: Ben Stanton
Sound designer: Brandon Wolcott
Presented by Lincoln Center Theater
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