By Laura Mortkowitz
Late at night, the Pillowman convinces little children to kill themselves in order to save them from lives of pain and suffering. And he’s the good guy.
Playwright Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman is a dark and sickening journey into a totalitarian society and the interrogation of one writer. Only three years old, the play is being performed in the Yvonne Theater, directed by Dr. Miriam Mills.
The story of Katurian K. Katurian, a writer hauled in for questioning, is convoluted and well performed by the cast, all of whom play layered characters. The Pillowman will send shivers down your spine and stay with you after the actors bow and the lights come back up.
Detectives Tupolski and Ariel are questioning Katurian at the beginning of the play, but he, like the audience, doesn’t fully know why. The detectives push at Katurian, trying to make him unwittingly let something slip. After Ariel physically pushes Katurian around, the play shows off its deftly written comedy when Tupolski (senior Kevin Feehery) drolly says, “I almost forgot to mention. I’m the good cop, he’s the bad cop.” However, by the end of the play, it becomes apparent that Tupolski isn’t quite telling the truth. As with the story, the characters aren’t exactly what they seem at first.
The detectives take their time getting to the point of the interrogation. Katurian knows it has to do with his stories, and it is revealed that some of them end with bad things happening to children.
The story of Katurian actually starts well before the opening scene and is told later by the writer. Raised by caring parents who encouraged him, Katurian wrote childish stories about little green pigs. However, he heard crying and moaning at night from the room next door. His stories grew darker, more twisted and better. It wasn’t until he turned 14 and won a writing competition that he broke into the room next door to find a chilling sight: lying in the bed was his older brother, whom his parents tortured each night. Because of this, Michal is slow.
By the time Katurian is brought in for questioning, two children have been killed via plots he devised and a girl is missing. In an attempt to find the third child, Tupolski and Ariel have brought not only Katurian in for questioning, but Michal as well.
The Pillowman might not be a play everyone will enjoy, but it is unique with a twisted sense of humor. Audiences will find themselves laughing at the conversations and then cringing at the tale of “The Little Jesus.”
The set design is sparse and creepy in its own way. The bland walls of the interrogation room are splattered with blood, and the few items on stage keep the prisoners feeling isolated. As Katurian sits on the dark stage, a spotlight illuminating him, the stories that he tells play out behind him within the transformed walls of the prison cell.
The use of storytelling is a huge part of the play. It offers a glimpse into Katurian’s psyche, but the stories are also what Katurian cares about most. After resigning himself to the inevitability of execution, he attempts to save his 400 stories, his life’s work, at any cost.
The small cast does well considering how difficult it must be to get into the heads of these characters. Freshman David Spadora tackles the role of Katurian. He plays the character twitchy at times, yet confident and proud at others. However, he falters when the part is overwhelming for him and he becomes an actor attempting to play the character.
The detectives also fall into the trap of trying to act. They are most believable when the dialogue gives them little time to think. For instance, sophomore Justin Kelly believably becomes Ariel when he is antagonizing Katurian. The best interaction among the cast members is between Spadora and junior Tommy Butler, who plays Michal. Butler manages to accurately depict how dependent Michal is upon his younger brother and yet how twisted his thought processes can be.
There are little moments when the audience can see how close the two are, such as when Michal asks Katurian if they’ll be executed together and when Michal sits on the floor and wraps his arms around his younger brother’s leg. No matter what happens, Michal can never forget that his brother saved him, and so Michal truly hero-worships Katurian. Butler portrays these qualities accurately; at times it is heartbreaking and at others it is humorous.
The Pillowman will undoubtedly make every person leaving the theater look at the power of a story in a new and different light. And all aspiring writers will be glad they don’t live in the totalitarian society depicted in the play.