Review: Kill Floor (American Theater Company)

| April 20, 2016

Louie Rinaldi and Sol Patches in Kill Floor, American Theater Company 2          

Kill Floor

Written by Abe Koogler
American Theater Co., 1909 W. Byron (map)
thru May 1  |  tix: $43-$48  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Compelling and complex, but not cohesive


Audrey Francis and Eric Slater in Kill Floor, American Theater Company

American Theater Company presents
Kill Floor

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Abe Koogler’s Kill Floor is filled with complex, dynamic characters whose damaged lives will intrigue you from the stark, eerie, opening image. As the piece winds through a series of fraught/funny/disturbing two-person scenes, director Jonathan Berry’s rock-solid ensemble brings these troubled souls to light and makes your heart ache for each of them.

Unfortunately, Koogler’s deft, realistic and compelling dialogue never adds up to an actual story. There’s no discernable plot propelling these fascinating characters, just a series of extremely well-acted conversations and richly evocative atmospherics. All the pieces for an enthralling drama are here – except the events that would comprise that story. Ideally, Audrey Francis and Sol Patches in Kill Floor, American Theater Companyevery scene in a drama has you mentally demanding ‘what happens next?’ With Kill Floor, the question is more along the lines of ‘when will something happen?’ As a result, Kill Floor is basically a showcase for gifted actors digging into the words of a gifted dialogist.

The first thing that grabs your attention in Kill Floor is Dan Stratton’s set. Much of Kill Floor has to do with a slaughter house, and while we never actually see the titular locale where cows are skinned and gutted, Stratton creates a nightmarish, “Saw”-worthy space of rust, corrugated steel and harsh angles. Matthew Chapman’s sound design intensifies the uneasiness, barraging the audience with a surround-sound roar that sounds like a mashup of screaming animals, scraping metal, industrial machinery and something unidentifiable but so unnerving you really don’t want to analyze it any further.

Andy (Audrey Francis) is the first person we meet. She’s just out of prison as she goes to work in the slaughter house. She’s tough, but the place gets to her nonetheless; the relentless speed of the work means at least half the animals are still alive when she’s skinning them. That’s the least of it – the pace on the kill floor also means that gruesome industrial accidents are inevitable. Still, Andy’s determined to make a life for herself and her estranged 15-year-old son, B (Sol Patches). She goes to work every day, emerging at the end of her shift bloody and bowed.

B was only 10 when Andy went to prison for low-level drug dealing. Now a moody, vegan teenager, he resents his mother with a servant-sharp disdain that cuts her to the core. A troubled, lonely boy, B’s only friend is Simon (Louie Rinaldi), a bully who isn’t really a friend at all but a user and an abuser. While the painfully vulnerable B tries to make Simon love him (with predictably heartbreaking results), Andy navigates the sexual overtures of her married boss Rick (Eric Slater), a man who is more pathetic than predatory.

Finally, there’s the puzzling presence of Sarah, (Darci Nalepa) a complete one-note non-starter of a character who randomly shows up for two pointless scenes and then vanishes. Nalepa is a fine actor, but Sarah feels like a very rough draft of a character sketch from a completely different play. Sarah’s presence in Kill Floor is so inexplicable it’s a distraction – instead of being immersed in the world of the play, you may well find yourself pondering at length what in the world Sarah has to do with any of it.

Audrey Francis and Darci Nalepa in Kill Floor, American Theater CompanyAudrey Francis and Eric Slater in Kill Floor, American Theater Company 2 Audrey Francis as Andy in Kill Floor at American Theater Company 2 Louie Rinaldi and Sol Patches in Kill Floor, American Theater Company 3Louie Rinaldi and Sol Patches in Kill Floor, American Theater Company

That said, Berry gets uniformly strong performances from his cast. Francis captures both the hardness and the deep vulnerability of a wounded woman determined to get her life back on track. Patches is also wrenching: When B unleashes the years of pent-up fury he’s been harboring for his mother, it’s absolutely explosive. Every drop of B’s rage and frustration feels authentic. And in Francis, you can see how that rage pierces Andy right through the heart.

Patches’ work with Rinaldi is also impressive. Rinaldi’s Simon uses B like a disposable rag and nails the casual, unthinking cruelty of an over-privileged, undereducated white boy who simply doesn’t care about the pain he’s inflicting. There’s really only one way to accurately describe Simon: He’s a callous little cunt. Rinaldi’s ability to make you hate him so thoroughly is a testament to his acting prowess.

As Andy’s boss Rick, Slater nails the middle-aged resignation of a man who has never really been anywhere or done anything – and is just beginning to realize how much he has to regret. Rick is as trapped in his hometown as the cows in the slaughterhouse he runs. His marriage is loveless, his ‘career’ is joyless, his future only promises more of the same.

Between scenes, Berry has the actors moving the scenery with the fearful urgency of people being chased. If only there were a plot that gave that urgency purpose. As is, Kill Floor doesn’t live up to its potential.

Rating: ★★½

Kill Floor continues through May 1st at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map), with performances Thursdays & Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $43-$48, and are available by phone (773-409-4125) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 95 minutes, no intermission)

Audrey Francis as Andy in Kill Floor at American Theater Company

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Audrey Francis (Andy), Eric Slater (Rick), Louie Rinaldi (Simon), Sol Patches (B), Darci Nalepa (Sarah), Kristin Broadwell, Bradford Lund, Danny Mulea (understudies).

behind the scenes

Jonathan Berry (director), Dan Stratton (scenic design), Christine Pascual (costume design), Rachel K. Levy (lighting design), Matthew Chapman (sound design), Jeremiah Barr (props design), Katrina Herrmann (stage manager), Ryan Bourque (fight choreographer), Cole Van Glahn (asst. director), Emily Arnold (costume assistant), Nora Rubenstone (master electrician), Joe Palermo (sound engineer), Niki Driesdadt (asst. stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2016 Reviews, American Theater Company, Catey Sullivan

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