DramaNew YorkReview

The Pillowman – Clarion Theatre, New York

Writer: Martin McDonagh
Director: Erin Cronican &Brandon Walker
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler


The Pillowman is a dark, disturbing, funny script that has the ability to resonate deeply, and with startling precision. In a non-specific future, in an authoritarian police state, a writer is interrogated about the twisted stories he’s written over the years, which have begun to be acted out as real-life crimes against children. The writer, Katurian, seems genuinely unaware of the connection until the questioning officers -“good cop” Tupolski and “bad cop” Ariel – lay it out explicitly. Katurian is beaten for answersand is threatened with the abuse of his brother, who is in the next room suffering similar treatment.

This production, from The Seeing Place Theater, is effective but incomplete. The cast seems to understand intellectually what they are not quite able to translate to the stage. The nuance is missing, and often the lines don’t land anywhere once they’re delivered. McDonagh tempers, or perhaps enhances, the darkness in this world with well-placed laughs. The cast seems unable to manage these opportunities for comfortable laughter, and so lines come and go without adding anything to the story or the theatrical experience. To counter these lighter exchanges, there are moments of emotional depth and intensity for the characters that just translate, in this production, to being louder than the line before.

A complicated script deserves an able and appropriately cast ensemble, a thorough rehearsal process, and clear direction, and this production isn’t quite there with all three. Of course, if the cast is the wrong cast, then no amount of rehearsal time will clarify the director’s intent or do the script justice.

Throughout the production, there are directorial choices made that do more harm than good. Sound cues are consistently too loud for the small space, and often don’t add anything to the scene but distractions. (The intention is clear, and perhaps a less distracting volume is all that’s needed to match the music with the onstage story, but one wonders if they are necessary to the production at all.) During one particular address to the audience, after the cops have left him alone in the interrogation room and he begins to tell us the dark story of his and his brother’s childhood, Katurian removes his own handcuffs. There is a panel on the upstage wall that serves as a window to the room behind it, a screen onto which images are projected, and a two-way mirror. The projections are stale, and like the sound cues, don’t add anything to the play. Three minor characters, once introduced, remain awkwardly on stage to the end, again not adding anything to the production.

Katurian is a storyteller, and The Pillowman is, in part, about the power of art, the rôle of the storyteller in a politicized world, and the immortality promised by leaving one’s work behind after death. What happens when fiction becomes fact, and to what lengths are you willing to go to preserve your creations? If your life and your work are the inspiration for murder, are you accountable, and is murder justifiable in response? If a killer is created as a product of his environment and upbringing, is he responsible for his actions? These are not easy questions, and neither playwright nor directors offeran explicit answer – this is just a story after all – but the queries raised and the depths explored stay with you upon exiting the theater, even with this imperfect production.

Runs until 20 December 2015 | Image: Natasha Straley

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