The Pillowman is a must-see, must-experience at MainLine theatre
by Rebecca Ugolini
Fairy tales appeal to young ears because they promise adventure and deliver a comforting moral that reaches into everyday life from a land far, far away; in the thrill-seeking stage of adolescence where late nights with friends replace bed-side story-time, urban legends weave the same kind of enchanting, this-worldly-yet-otherworldly weft that lies at the base of all satisfying, if not particularly good, storytelling.
Whether the tales of Cinderella or the hook-handed killer are plausible or implausible is immaterial to the importance of the story to both the teller and the listener; yet somewhere in the dispiriting world of 9-to-5 jobs and paying bills, we forget that we exist to be moved and thrilled by a really good story. That’s where the MainLine theatre and Lifelong Productions' staging of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman steps in and jolts us uncomfortably, brilliantly, into remembering that at our core, we love being an audience.
In an unnamed totalitarian state either far, far away, or eerily close to home, a series of child abductions and murders have citizens, newspapers, and law enforcement searching for the culprits of the horrifying crimes. When the mild-mannered short-story writer Katurian (Greg Walker) and his mentally-challenged brother Michal (Parker Dorris) are taken into questioning by local police officers Tupolski (Cam Sedgwick) and Ariel (Christian Jadah), the links between Katurian’s stories and the details of the child abductions blur the lines between fiction and fact.
The Pillowman doesn’t pull any punches in its violent, mesmerizing staging of the Katurian investigation and the graphic, disturbing short stories acted out on stage. Director Courtney Larkin, fight director Robert Montcalm and set and prop designer Julie Racine have infused The Pillowman with a brutality and vitality that isn’t often seen live. The involuntary gasps and exclamations from audience members on opening night prove the believability of the play; The Pillowman reaches out and grabs its viewers in a visceral, frightening embrace.
The Pillowman isn’t all blood and brutality; like any fairy tale and urban legend, the moments of fear and sadness it brings are underscored by the tenderness and fragility of others. Walker is incredible for his sensitive portrayal of Katurian’s fearful, rage-filled, and warmhearted moments, and carries the difficult role so easily that the audience is swept deeper into believing The Pillowman’s terrifying premise. Dorris plays off Walker’s nervous energy in his portrayal of his mentally-challenged brother, and knows just how to toe the fine line between the comedic relief and incredible sadness which his character is meant to deliver. Sedgwick and Jadah appear at first to be playing the familiar good-cop, bad-cop routine, but as the investigation progresses, their versatility as actors becomes apparent as they unmask the motivations and fears which drive their characters’ obsession with the investigation.
Whether you can or can’t remember the last time you went to a play, really listened to a story, gasped out loud as you followed a plot or stayed gripped to your seat during intermission, go see The Pillowman. It’s story-time…
Pillowman is at MainLine to September 1.