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Post Mortem Players’ ‘Catch the Butcher’ Mixes Romance, Absurdism and Dread

Charlotte debut run ends March 24

A woman sits on a bench reading 'The Stranger Beside Me' while a stranger creeps up behind her in Post Mortem Players' 'Catch the Butcher'
Jackie Obando Carter as Nancy in Post Mortem Players’ ‘Catch the Butcher.’ (Photo by Kiesha Garrido)

It’s the 1980s, the Decade of Greed, and Nancy feels disconnected from life. So, Nancy does what any (read: no) lonely woman would do; she sets herself up to be captured by the brooding psychopath stalking her community. 

See, in her search for meaning, Nancy has grown obsessed with a serial killer dubbed The Butcher, in particular the poems he writes to his victims. In short order, she finds herself in The Butcher’s basement, handcuffed to a chair. It’s exactly what Nancy wants, as now domestic bliss can blossom.

This is the set up for Adam Seidel’s dark comedy Catch the Butcher, a mix of romance, absurdism and dread that makes its Charlotte debut with a fiendishly funny run at Comedy Arts Theatre of Charlotte (CATCh) from March 15-24.

One thing we found when we [staged the play before] is that the audience has no idea how it’s going to end,” says Chris Stonnell, founder and artistic director of Post Mortem Players (PMP), a Charlotte-based theatre company that mounts horror and horror-adjacent productions.

Launched in 2022 by Stonell, a Charlotte native and long-time local arts professional, PMP has presented five productions at Concord’s Old Courthouse Theatre, including the initial run of Butcher in October 2023. The current run is the grisly group’s inaugural production in the Queen City. 

Two acts, three actors

“Act One is very Silence of the Lambs,” Stonnell says, divulging a soupçon of Butcher’s piquant plot, which director Heather Wilson-Bowlby navigates through plentiful tone shifts. 

After Nancy and serial killer Bill (AKA The Butcher) develop a verbal repartee, they decide to start a relationship. 

“Act 2 is kind of Leave it to Beaver and Dexter,” Stonnell continues. “It’s about the pitfalls they face. Is the allure the same for Nancy when Bill’s not this mysterious serial killer that she was looking for?” 

The show skewers suburban lifestyles, as seen when increasingly bored Nancy invites aggressively friendly neighbor Joanne to pop by.

Stonnell praises Illinois transplant Jackie Obando Carter, who plays Nancy. In addition to a theatrical directing background, Obando Carter is a brilliant costume designer who also designed the special effects for Butcher, Stonnell says. 

“Jackie brings vulnerability to the part of Nancy,” Stonnell says. “She’s also able to flip the switch in Act 2 when Nancy comes into her own, [and] the roles between Nancy and Bill start to shift.”

Jennifer Briere as Joanne (left) and Jackie Obando Carter as Nancy in Post Mortem Players’ ‘Catch the Butcher.’ (Photo by Kiesha Garrido)

Jennifer Briere brings energy and verve to the part of lively (and nosey) neighbor Joanne.

She’s your Texas middle-aged housewife, ready to come over with a Bundt cake and make everyone welcome,” Stonnell says. 

Amid Nancy’s emotional upheaval, and Bill’s attempt to keep a low profile, Joanne charges in like the bull in the china shop with a Bundt cake, Stonnell says.

Initially Chuck Riordan, who plays Bill the titular butcher, struggled to come to grips with playing a serial killer, Stonnell says.

Finding the humanity in the character was by far the most challenging aspect for me,” Riordan says. “I had to dissect the text … to realize despite the horrendous things he does, he still is human and has the same emotions as others.” 

Director Wilson-Bowlby sent Riordan several clips of interviews with well-known serial killers that he watched multiple times to try to gain an understanding of them. 

“Believe me, it was not the most enjoyable part of the process,” Riordan says. 

Stonnell adds that finding Riordan a pair of 1980s eyeglasses, which the actor refers to as his “Jeffrey Dahmer glasses,” helped him find The Butcher’s center.

At first they were just another costume piece, but through the rehearsal process they became much more,” Riordan says. “Not to sound too cliché, but I feel I’m looking through a lens on how Bill views the world.”

Chuck Riordan as Bill the Butcher (right) and Jackie Obando Carter as Nancy in Post Mortem Players’ ‘Catch the Butcher.’ (Photo by Kiesha Garrido)

Like the distorted prism of serial killer eyeglasses, Catch the Butcher takes a warped view of our funhouse mirror world, but it is still a comedy, albeit a horror laced one. 

There’s nothing objectively horrific in this show, other than the premise that this person is a serial killer,” says Stonnell. “As far as being scary or gory, this plot leans a little more towards the sitcom version of [horror].” 

That said, Stonnell promises the production has a few Grand Guignol stagecraft tricks up its sleeve.

I hope the audience walks away from the show entertained and can see the true complexity of all the characters and relate to their everyday struggles of what it means to be human,” Riordan says, “except the killing part, of course!”

A horror fan slays the audience

Somewhat akin to Norman Bates, Stonnell blames his obsession with horror on his mother … in the sense that he praises his horror fan mom for supporting his interests. When he was a kid, Stonnell confessed that he had watched Halloween II on a VHS tape. His mom promptly sat him down to watch the first in the classic slasher series, the original Halloween.

“The rest is history,” Stonnell says. 

A kid who was always singing and trying to mount shows, Stonnell discovered the Old Courthouse Theatre in high school.

“I never went away,” Stonnell deadpans. After earning a degree in Music Education, he taught chorus and theatre in Cabarrus County schools for over four years. A career change working for Blumenthal Performing Arts Center was followed by a 16-year stint with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

For the last two years, Stonnell has worked for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. A writer, performer and music arranger, he is also a horror lover who always wanted to combine his scary interests with his love for theatre. He found a way to conjoin his avocations when he read an article on Stephen Sondheim in which the revered musical theatre composer and lyricist mentioned the Grand Guignol theater.

Stonnell took a deep dive into the history of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, a converted church at the end of a Paris alley that launched a rich tradition of chillingly gruesome stage shows from 1987 to 1962. Employing clever stagecraft, the theater spiced its slice-of-life stories with slice-of-death effects.

They pioneered a lot of the practical effects that movies would pick up and start using,” Stonnell says. 

Noting the current popularity of cult horror movies and conventions like Mad Monster Party, Stonnell felt the Grand Guignol approach to creepy entertainment could work in modern times. An opportunity arose at a Halloween-themed show at the old Courthouse Theatre in 2022. 

The occasion marked a kind of soft launch for PMP. Stonnell’s fledgling theatre group presented three short horror plays. Nestled among adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado and Washington Irving’s The Adventure of the German Student was a Grand Guignol classic, A Crime in the Madhouse.

Harking back to the Grand Guignol, part of what made [the show] so successful was that [Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol] was a spooky old converted church, and the Old Courthouse Theatre is a spooky old converted church,” Stonnell says.

Four more PMP productions at the Old Courthouse followed, including a Christmastime 2022 program of adapted Edwardian ghost stories, including shivery tales by Charles Dickens and M.R. James. The summer of 2023 brought a staging of the critically acclaimed musical drama Monstersongs, which presents classic yet misunderstood monsters in a favorable light. 

For Halloween 2023, Stonnell and PMP presented the troupe’s first staging of Catch the Butcher, which had originally been presented off Broadway in 2015. PMP celebrated the holiday season on 2023 with a staging of The Innocents, a play based on Henry James’ classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, which was the basis for the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor.

Post Mortem Players’ ‘The Innocents.’ (Photo by Kiesha Garrido)

Besides surprising Charlotte audiences with the kind of ghostly/ghastly apparitions Concord theatre audiences have been enjoying, PMP’s reprise of Catch the Butcher at CATCh gives the show a two-weekend run instead of the one-weekend schedule it had in Concord. 

The extended Butcher revival also provides PMP a chance to raise funding for its next proposed project, a full-scale musical adaptation of the classic romantic fantasy Death Takes a Holiday, slated for a June 2024 run at the Old Courthouse. The source material of the lush, melody-rich show was the basis of the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.

It’s definitely not a horror play, but your main character is the Grim Reaper,” Stonnell says. “So, it falls under our umbrella.” 

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