A spellbinding drama with pitch dark humor about a writer accused of perpetrating the very acts depicted in his murderous stories. The Pillowman is a vicious whirlpool of dazzling storytelling at the hysterical edge of creepy and encroaching, despair and doom.
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Now Extended Through May 14th 2010
Rising-star director, Kimberly Senior, guides a stellar cast of company members and guest artists on a fearless journey thru the fascinating mind of the world’s preeminent playwright, Martin McDonagh. Redtwist’s leading young men, Associate Artistic Director, Andrew Jessop, and award-winning actor, Peter Oyloe, blaze a trail across lush landscapes of sound and fury as white-hot terror and pitch-black humor collide in a ball of flames amidst the fragility and hope of the human soul. When it comes to thriller, there’s everything else, and then there’s…The Pillowman.
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CHICAGO TRIBUNE REVIEW OF THE PILLOWMAN AT REDTWIST THEATRE
Nina Metz Special to the Tribune, Nov. 25, 2009
Certain things can only be revealed in close-up. It’s a tool well-suited to cinema but not often practical in theater unless the space is small and the director exceptionally clever.
Which brings us to Kimberly Senior’s unforgettable production of “The Pillowman” for Redtwist Theatre, which opened over the weekend and nails what far too few off-Loop theater companies (and their directors) are willing to go after. I’m speaking of intimacy that nearly goes too far.
Considering the material at hand — a black hole of grisly doings and spirited dark comedy from playwright Martin McDonagh — the tactic is a gamble. A writer of short fiction named Katurian is under interrogation, accused of crimes that mimic his stories of torture and murder (played expertly by Andrew Jessop as a man whose vanity gets the better of him).
What unfolds is a bonanza of grim campfire tales tucked inside a police procedural, wherein brotherly bonds are poked and prodded, and the lingering effects of abusive parents are splayed out for all to see.
A hefty chunk of McDonagh’s reputation as a dramatist (his works include “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” seen at Northlight last season) is based on his knack for heightening human depravity and daring audiences to look away.
And yet, in one hell of a gutsy move, Senior takes all that instinct for recoil, gives it the heave-ho and places her actors within inches of the audience, which flanks two sides of the theater like a jury.
The blocking is tight and cramped. The cast has barely enough room to maneuver, and when they tussle they almost go splat right on your shoes. Sometimes you’re watching a scene from over an actor’s shoulder. Any false moves, and the effect — the jokes and the drama — would be blown, but the ensemble is up to the task and then some. Senior has assembled a crackerjack design team as well (Christopher Burpee’s lighting is especially focused) who have created a ripe, eavesdropping environment.
It’s dire stuff, but McDonagh wants to have fun, too. The interrogation borders on the inane half the time, at turns hilarious and appalling. The dialogue, with its Mamet-esque flavor, is a cacophony of interrupted utterances and overblown egos forever explaining their side of things.
It’s a rip-roaring experience, and one that I think McDonagh would appreciate quite a lot, for “The Pillowman” is full of claustrophobic moments and large-scale exaggerations.
But above all, the play is an excuse to talk about storytelling itself, which in this case is done best in small, precise increments, preferably in a room with a low ceiling, better to trap all those emotions before they dissipate in the air.
There is an object lesson here, I think. Three years ago Steppenwolf staged this play in a production that was good (and a good bit roomier) if not exactly special. Something about the expansive dimensions of that show allowed audiences to sit back and ponder the work from afar, whereas the shrunken confines at Redtwist force you to admire it from within. There is no escape. In theater, this is a very good thing.
Read some more reviews HERE