A year ago this week, 25-year-old, Wilmette-raised playwright Marisa Wegrzyn made a splash at the Steppenwolf Theatre's First Look Festival of new American plays. It was a bit of a bloody splash. Wegrzyn's pitch-black comedy, "The Butcher of Baraboo," was a piece of Upper Midwestern Gothic featuring gore, eccentricity, small-town intrigue, a possible murder and a prominently wielded meat cleaver.
Demonstrably, the play needed a lot more work. Nonetheless, it was clear from Dexter Bullard's premiere production that Wegrzyn -- who had graduated from Washington University in St. Louis only a couple of years earlier -- was a promisingly fearless new theatrical voice with a delightfully quirky sensibility. New York quickly came calling. Second Stage -- a prominent off-Broadway company that has hosted pre-Broadway runs of Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphoses" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" -- almost immediately committed to doing the play in its season. Second Stage even hired Judith Ivey, a well-known, Tony-winning actor, to direct. Even though Second Stage was no stranger to risky new writing, Ivey's involvement surely ratcheted up the stakes for an unknown playwright.
The play opened in New York in May.
"It was my first time even being in New York," the shy-but-droll Wegrzyn said over lunch the other day, recalling what you might be thinking is shaping up as the heartwarming story of a precocious young playwright's thrilling trajectory toward stardom.
New York critics butchered "The Butcher of Baraboo."
An interesting article that raises a lot of questions.