With enough bustle skirts and meat cleaving to fill a Sweeney Todd revival, Mister Gallico (Widemouth Theatre/Adobe Productions) feels distantly familiar from its first butcher-block sighting. Fleeing a murky family tragedy, the title character arrives in 19th-century New York and hangs his shingle above a meat shop, plying his trade as a medium for grieving widows. Seeing women stream out of his tenant’s salon, the jealous butcher (Karl Herlinger) —an earthy fellow who longs for human flesh—peeks on his tenant during a séance and gets mistaken for a resurrected spirit, launching a partnership with deadly consequences.
Writer-composer Sam Carter blends narration, dialogue, and aphoristic rumination into a dramatic hodgepodge that feels both overextended and incomplete. Some of the difficulty is structural: The oddly tentative songs—at times channeling Weill and Sondheim—punctuate the first half but mostly subside in the second. And the book devotes too much attention to ancillary characters, stunting the emotional growth of the confidence men’s tale. As the scam turns back on & him, Gallico comes to be haunted by his own authentic ghosts, but the character ultimately remains a blank rather than an enigma. Though brimming with physical intensity, Jason Howard never gets a chance to summon the spiritualist’s corresponding inner life more tangibly; like the rest of the cast, he’s often left staring at his trembling hands instead. Mister Gallico asks who can see into whose head, but to create a true mystery of character it needs to venture further beyond atmospherics.