There's a new theater company in town, making its debut with a show for a new generation. The Pillowman, it's called, and 30-something Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is all about the blood in his dark drama — both the kind of blood that's beaten out of a suspected criminal by corrupt police, and the kind that flows between two brothers. Blood isn't the only ingredient stewing in the pressure pot of a plot performed by Hubris Theatre Company; also simmering are universal issues of humanity, like bond versus bondage, nature versus nurture, censorship versus freedom of expression … there's really no end.
The Pillowman begins in an interrogation room in a "totalitarian fucking dictatorship" of unknown origin. A Nazi-like feel is conjured by the red armbands on the officers' uniforms, and Tom Mangieri's intentionally dreary set, inspired by the neoclassic German period of the '30s and '40s, also invokes a soulless Euro atmosphere. This is where writer Katurian K. Katurian (Josh Geoghagen) and his mentally challenged brother, Michal (John Bateman, Hubris founder and producer), are being held for questioning. There's either been a terrible misunderstanding or the cocksure attitude of head officer Tupolski (Tommy Keesling) portends double trouble.
In the show's program notes, director Kevin G. Becker writes about his first encounter with The Pillowman. He says, "For the first time in my life here was a show, a writer that was of my generation. A voice that reflected my world, a brazen no-holds-barred intellectual and violent crafting of storytelling."
Brazen, yes. Violent, yes. And what a whale of a tale from a twisted Irishman enacted by a polished, talented cast. Keesling fits like a glove into his role as the wry wielder of life-versus-death decisions, and Geoghagen totally sells his character's duality — a goofy adult who writes gruesome fairy tales. With a later entry into the story, Bateman's capture of the slow brother is perfection in every nuance of voice, movement and motivation.
Dissonant orchestral music filled the theater with suspense until curtain time, when blinding spotlights shocked the audience's eyes for a few seconds. The stress-inducing plot continued to pop in and out of different dimensions and perspectives, and theatrical tricks pounded the sense of fear. That's where the brazen quality comes into play. While Becker says he stayed true to the words in the original work, he did make a radical change with the permission of the playwright: A particularly horrific act of evil (the crucifixion of a young girl) is supposed to be enacted on the stage in the second act; instead, the scene has been pre-filmed and is projected onstage. Too bad I can't tell you if the change works or not, because I missed it.
That's right: Two hours into the show — a long sitting — when enough truth had been uncovered to seal the fates of the brothers, the lights went up after an extremely dramatic denouement. The end? I thought so, driving away from the theater with a head full of questions. But — psych — it was just intermission; a final hour of dirty deeds remained.
Not to feel bad, says Becker; someone in their crew had attended the original 2003 production in London, and he too inadvertently walked out at intermission. Becker agrees that the story could end there, but assures me that the second act is even more disturbing than what came before it. You've been firstname.lastname@example.org
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