Martin McDonagh is interested in giving audiences a theatrical experience, making the audience active participants, and therefore able to draw their own conclusions about the message of his plays. T. Schreiber Studio presents McDonagh’s, The Pillowman, and takes McDonagh’s advice to heart. The result is an utterly compelling production of this intensely layered work.
The Pillowman follows two brothers, Katurian and Michal, who are subjected to a horrible, twisted, and demonic childhood. Their parents are to blame for their torturous upbringing. When Katurian discovers that they have been abusing his brother Michal for seven years, Katurian kills his parents in an effort to free his mentally handicapped brother Michal. They manage to escape their childhood and Katurian takes care of Michal. The one blessing in all of this is that Katurian is a gifted writer. His stories are often dark, reflecting the pain that abused children suffer. Yet when someone starts re-enacting his stories, children start being murdered in the same vain as his writing. The next two hours of the play deal with the interrogation of the brothers and the startling discoveries made about what happened to the child victims.
Like a great painter, Peter Jensen directs this piece with just the right contrast of colors and emotion. It is easy to sink into a black hole of morbidity in a play like this, but Jensen avoids this pitfall and finds the humanity, love, and mercy that co-exist in this deeply dark play. As a result, we feel the pain and understand the psyche of the characters. It would be easy to disconnect because of the disturbing subject matter, but instead we invest in the characters and identify with their plight. We see the shades of gray, rather than merely simple black and white. At the the end of the play, we have a true catharsis, which is often forgotten about today. But the power of such a moment is riveting. I thank Jensen and his troupe for giving me that moment.
The cast is stellar. Josh Marcantel plays Katurian, with deep loyalty and conviction. We see the sincerity of Katurian at all times and fall in love with him. Equally strong is Alexei Bondar, who plays Michal. These two brothers have really found the unconditional love between them. Bondar plays Michal with great heart and conviction that we never doubt him. He often provides the comic moments that we desperately need in a play as dense as this. Don Carter and Tommy Buck play the two mysterious detectives that interrogate Katurian. Their interplay is strong and offer some great lighter moments in the play, while still delivering complex characters.
In a dark work such as The Pillowman, one expects to find intense emotions and disturbing conversations. What I did not expect was to find love, humor, and compassion. Yet, McDonagh and Jensen show that these two opposites can co-exist and when explored equally can have profound and unexpected effects. This production explores many opposing and complicated emotions that often are found on the same side of the coin, but rarely discussed. This, alone, makes The Pillowman worth seeing!
The Pillowman plays through Nov. 24th at T. Schreiber Studio, 151 W 26th St. 7th Floor. http://www.tschreiber.org/productions/now-playing/