Playwright: Abe Koogler. At: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St. Tickets: 773-409-4125 or www.atcweb.org; $38-$48. Runs through: May 1
Despite its title, Abe Koogler's 2015 off-Broadway drama Kill Floor doesn't feature a slaughterhouse scene where the carcasses of recently killed cows are cut apart. Yet there are a few disquieting descriptions that not only make audiences squirm in their seats, but also to ponder the symbolic significance of the show's title in American Theater Company's involving Chicago premiere production.
Kill Floor doesn't aim to be an exposé of factory meat in the vein of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Instead, it's a personal-toll examination of the working poor via a desperate ex-con trying to reintegrate back into society and family life after serving a five-year prison sentence.
Andy ( Audrey Francis ) is desperate to find any kind of work, which is why she accepts a grisly entry-level abattoir job near her hometown. Andy initially feels lucky that the slaughterhouse manager Rick ( Eric Slater ) is a former high school classmate, but then he starts showering her with some unwanted and inappropriate attention.
Andy's life is also complicated by her many failed attempts to reconnect with her her estranged 15-year-old son, who goes by the nickname of "B" ( Sol Patches ). As a vegan, B only shows contempt for Andy's job and all her misguided gifts.
B has his own problems, too, as seen in his unhealthy crush on Simon ( Louie Rinaldi ), an aspiring rapper classmate who goes by the nickname of "D." Simon reluctantly hangs out with B, though it's largely just to smoke pot and for non-reciprocal oral sex.
Also in the mix is the well-off suburban mom Sarah ( Darci Nalepa ), whose sometimes oblivious presence helps Koogler to illustrate American class differences.
Director Jonathan Berry's near environmental production surrounds the audience with chilly corrugated metal, a nice touch by set designer Dan Stratton that rightfully inspires ominous dread. Berry also oversees the many moving and realistically detailed performances by his ensemble.
Some may question the actors' character reactions when they bump up against a few instances of casual racism in the dialogueespecially considering how Andy is the mother of a mixed-race son. Yet, Francis' decision to have Andy blankly respond to these moments could be a sign of her character's powerlessness and desperation to avoid speaking out. Andy needs to hold onto this job, even though it gives her constant nightmares.
As a drama, Kill Floor certainly works at pushing many different buttons ranging from unease to pity. Unabashedly bleak, Kill Floor does have a redemptive quality though its characters who try to make amends for past wrongs despite so many leftover regrets and recriminations.