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The Pillowman – Off Broadway Theater Review 

 

GRUESOME BEDTIME STORIES

 

picture - The PillowmanTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published November 15, 2009

 

The Pillowman

now playing at the Good Shepherd Methodist Church

through November 21

 

As I child, I often drifted off to sleep in Mr. Sandman's arms, counting off sheep or, during the rarest of occasions, after consuming enough warm milk to calm my insides down.  Never in my life – and I count that as a blessing – did I encounter The Pillowman, the fluffy Dr. Kevorkian-for-kids at center stage in Martin McDonagh's bold and beautiful play of the same title.   But with a sharp script, stellar performances, handsome staging, and impassioned directing, the production forces you to see why he exists.

 

In fact, nothing in this drama goes down easy, from the subject matter – about a writer named Katurian (Avery Clark) who is brought in for questioning because the scenarios of some grisly child murders seem to mimic the plots in his stories – to its execution on stage.  The stories are horrifying enough.  Children are crucified, maimed, and tortured, to give you a taste, with enough detail to make you gnash your teeth just as your stomach turns.  However, the mind games that smug detective Tupolski (Seth Duerr) plays with Katurian are just as violent as the blows that enraged cop Ariel (Richard D. Busser) delivers to his body.  But even though the action is realistic in a neo-scary way, under Tom Wojtunik's direction, it never gives in to sensationalism.  Instead, it's in your face, gritty, and raw, as few shows venture to be.

 

picture - The PillowmanIn The Pillowman, not only does McDonagh carefully craft the skeleton of the story, but the organs – the short stories penned by Katurian – are equally well-written and engaging.  The opening banter between the characters may exceed the need to establish mood and the writer's wit, but once the plot gets going, it remains riveting for the next two and a half hours. 

 

But The Pillowman doesn't succeed by words alone.  Stephen K. Dobay's unpredictable set design tells stories all its own.  One minute, we see a drab beige and brown, lifeless interrogation room downstage left, the next minute, the narration of some of Katurian's stories prompts trap doors and colors to emerge from upstage right.  The split set is also a great way to put distance between the story and the audience, something much needed to stomach the events.  The quick-change scenic design gives the show a cinematic feel.  Despite the cartoonish mystery music that accompanies each scene change, nothing deters from enjoying – or being frightened by – the visuals.

 

While there are many things to be upset about in this production, there are also things to make you smile.  For one, there is the pure and innocent performance from Michal (Nathan Brisby), Katurian's older and mentally-slower brother.  He not only adds warmth, but the George and Lenny Of Mice and Men-esque dynamic that exists between the brothers creates tender moments where horrible pain lives.

 

As the central character in one of Katurian's most compelling stories, the Pillowman may be a vanquisher of pain, or, depending on your perspective, the cause.  But if you're not afraid to feel a little agony, even if it's just in the form of empathy, the entertainment, boldness and thrill from The Pillowman will be all the soothing balm you'll need.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 
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