Chops is not a piece of naturalistic theatre, but then that's hardly to be expected, given that this 'linguistic farce' by Brooklyn-based artist Kirin McCrory, performed by an all-female cast from Sweet Briar College, Virginia, is clearly focused on using its somewhat mannered language to express the emotional restrictions within prosperous American high society in the latter years of the 19th century.

Set in late 19th century America, it's the story of Marg (played with a calm assurance by Molly Harper), a supposed black widow who is despised by so-called polite society for her loose morals and enticing ways - not least because she had recently taken another’s husband for her own. The anger of society is personified most clearly in the self-appointed top dog, Oliviette (played with a imperious menace by Catherine Ramos): from the start she is a self-centred, cruel and snobbish woman, even telling one of her female acolytes, Katereel (a homely Charlotte Gibson Hopkins) ‘If your parenting is so substandard, feel free to imitate mine.’ (Though that is a dismissal she will later come to regret).

What complicates matters, pushing events towards catastrophe and inviting a baying mob to Marg's front door, is the covered corpse in the front parlour. Marg's most recent husband is dead and the general assumption among the community is that it wasn't by natural causes.

So the conflict is drawn out, the focus placed on cutting, sharp dialogue reflecting the shifting balance of power between Marg and Oliviette. The minimal staging draws focus to the linguistic nature of the production; there is simply a small selection of chairs, a frequently used tea-set, and a table that acts as a purse-holder. There is also an emphasis on creating almost static tableau, with little separating potentially violent characters from each other. Little violence actually happens on stage, however, and when it does happen it's committed by Oliviette.

The various twists and turns in the story are not without some interest but at around 90 minutes this two-act play feels somewhat drawn out on occasions and certainly claustrophobic in the world it creates for us; in terms of being a farce, it never quite gets its boiler up to full steam. This is despite two of the minor characters being performed by hand-puppets; an interesting decision, but it sits ill with the general tone of the piece.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

This new play is set in the 19th century in a small American town. Men have been mysteriously disappearing, and the ladies of the town think they know that the new arrival in town is responsible.

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