Off-Broadway Review: “Charolais”

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic

“I hate that . . . cow. I hate her soft face and her solid head and her dirty yellow tag against your sweaty neck like cheap gold earrings.” – Siobhan

There has been a fracas in farmer Jimmy’s shed that brings together three females in an unexpected display of power, principle, and panache. A battle ensues that leaves Siobhan’s apron spattered in blood and her toting a large blood-stained kitchen knife crusted with bits of hay. This is the image the audience sees at the beginning of “Charolais.” Siobhan carefully discloses the series of startling events and personal beefs that led up to the blood-letting, peeling layer after layer from the core of the matrix of memories marked by the shadows created by Tara Doolan’s subtle lighting.

Noni Stapleton’s “Charolais,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, is the tale of these three mothers (two human, one bovine) and how far they are willing to go to protect and save the ones they love – either someone they know they love or someone they have recently come to love. Siobhan, who narrates the tale, is pregnant with Jimmy’s baby (more about Jimmy later) and will do anything to protect her unborn child; Breda, Jimmy’s “bitch” of a mother, is overprotective of her son; and the French heifer Charolais, also expecting, is ready to protect her calf come what may. All three are portrayed by playwright Noni Stapleton with just the right blend of pathos and ethos.

Siobhan needs to feel special and she strives to please Jimmy to garner that kind of support from him. Blocking Jimmy’s ability to deliver what Siobhan needs is overbearing Breda and the heifer Charolais who seems to get more attention from Jimmy than does his soon-to-be partner in parenting. How to remove the culprits who stand in the way of Siobhan’s happiness with Jimmy? Homicide or slaughter cross Siobhan’s mind and Ms. Stapleton’s engaging narrative establishes means, motive, and opportunity for the crime. The question is, whose blood is drying on Siobhan’s apron and coagulating on her kitchen knife? Charolais’s? Breda’s? Jimmy’s perhaps?

Tucked away somewhere between house and shed and field are pockets of loneliness, anger, resentment, jealously, rage – all uncovered by Siobhan as she traverses the landscape of her emotional terrain. Ms. Stapleton’s script has meat on its bones and serves up enough twists and turns, hints, and surprises to sate the appetite of the sophisticated theatre-goer. There are prurient interests that delicately counterpoint the human and the bovine condition. Under director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh’s steady hand, “Charolais” is a welcomed battle of wisdom and wits tempered by whimsy delivered with empathic grace throughout Noni Stapleton’s authentic and believable performance.



The design team for “Charolais” includes Miriam Duffy (costume design), Tara Doolan (lighting design), and Jack Cawley (sound design). The dramaturg is Gavin Kostick.  The production stage manager is Becca Pickett. 

Produced by Fishable: The New Play Company, “Charolais” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 24. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM and 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit Running time is 65 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Noni Stapleton in “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.