Nicholas L. Ashe and Marin Ireland in a scene from Abe Koogler's Kill Floor, directed by Lila Neugebauer, at the Claire Tow Theater.
Nicholas L. Ashe and Marin Ireland in a scene from Abe Koogler's Kill Floor, directed by Lila Neugebauer, at the Claire Tow Theater.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

Let's cut to the chase: Tony nominee Marin Ireland is sensational in Kill Floor. In Abe Koogler's drama at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater, Ireland plays a woman struggling to get her life back together after being released from prison. Her performance is as raw as a bloody side of beef, and so too is the play, a solid gut-punch brought to unflinching life by director Lila Neugebauer.

Andy (Ireland) has just finished serving five years at a correctional facility and is suddenly plopped back into a world that she doesn't recognize. In an effort to create some semblance of normalcy, she rents a dank apartment and gets hired by an old high school classmate (Danny McCarthy) to work, for $12 an hour, on the kill floor assembly line at a slaughterhouse.

She's also trying to repair her fractured relationship with her son, B (Nicholas L. Ashe). B (short for Brendan) is 15 now, and he no longer resembles the youngster she knew before she did time. His tastes have completely changed; no longer a videogame player, he's become a voracious reader. He's also a vegan now, a concept that Andy, with her truly gruesome job, can't wrap her head around. The world has left Andy behind, and she's just struggling to catch up.

In many ways, we can tell that Kill Floor is Koogler's first professionally produced play. Structurally, it has too many subplots (involving characters played by Natalie Gold and Samuel H. Levine) that could use some smoothing. The text itself stops as it reaches its denouement instead of coming to an organic ending, as if Koogler doesn't know where to go. And his dialogue has a tendency to veer into half and unfinished sentences, reminiscent of a David Mamet play. That's a shame since the script is otherwise so fresh. However, Kill Floor is a dream come true for actors, featuring meaty conflicts and two-character scenes that are both tender and pungent.

Neugebauer's laser-sharp production fits its cast and creative team like gloves. McCarthy is an awkward delight as Andy's boss, Rick, who admits that he doesn't remember her, yet feels a spark set aflame the second they lay eyes on each other. Gold is filled with compassion as Sarah, a woman Andy befriends in the supermarket. Levine is a hoot as Simon, a white, would-be rapper who starts experimenting sexually with B. Daniel Zimmerman provides a wide-open set, but with Ben Stanton's lighting, the experience feels as cramped as a prison cell.

This claustrophobia goes a long way in helping Ashe and Ireland develop B and Andy's relationship. Ashe brings great pain and nuance to his performance as a teenager faced with the tough decision of whether he should let his unpredictable mother back into his confusing, hormone-filled universe. And with Ireland portraying his volatile mom, he really does have to think twice. She is simply magnificent as Andy, imbuing her with undeniable warmth that disappears in a blink and turns into frightening explosiveness. It's a gutsy, brutal, fearless performance from one of New York's most indispensable actresses in a riveting, edge-of-your seat play by a writer worth keeping an eye on.