The Pillowman, which opens Friday evening at the Shadowbox Theatre, examines the plight of a disaffected fiction writer by the name of Katurian K. Katurian. Such a name, he explains, is emblematic of his parent’s sense of humour. It is about all the humour they have or had in this dark tragedy with much comedy which starts when the ink slinger is brought in by the police, who rule the roost in what is a totalitarian state. They are concerned because of the inexplicable likeness of his stories about child murders to actual events. Katurian is brilliantly played by Eric Branget who expertly creates a sophisticated aura mixing both an honest degree of frustration with the pomposity of fear.
What is most innovative is the introduction of video segments in which the lead character’s stories unfold either through animation or recorded field scenes.
This multi-media addition is a master stroke giving the production a surprising edge. Co-Producer Michael O’Reilly tells Eyes on Windsor the video allows for the presentation of material not normal for a stage.
Six of Katurian’s stories, from about 400 under his belt, come to life on the big screen. Most, including one with a Pillowman character, involve death. Another about a green pig is nothing short of a fascinating children’s tale.
Throughout the play, Katurian is obsessed with maintaining his legacy by fighting to prevent the destruction of his writings which squarely puts him at odds with his two interrogators.
Playwright Martin McDonagh is one of the best, if not the best, contemporary dramatic writers. His stories flow with rapid dialogue that, when in the hands of superb actors, never misses a beat. It is something Faye Lynn, playing fly-off-the-handle bad cop Ariel, and Simon Du Toit, portraying the equally unpredictable but nonetheless good cop Tupolski, understand instinctively and concisely.
But even good cop Tupolski vacillates between being good and bad. He makes promises not to destroy Katurian’s life’s work then when he changes his mind claims that mind changing is fine because who would believe what a cop says in a dictatorship.
Protagonist Katurian, over and over denies any involvement in the murders, but is this because he honestly doesn’t know or is something else going on involving his brother Michael. The lad is a little slow, or as Katurian explains, “slow to get things done.” Joey Wright, in the role of the slow brother, intuitively delivers a performance with lines generating some of the best comedy of the play and does it with continual kinetic energy.
If there is one lesson to be learned from a McDonagh play, it is never take anything said by any of the characters for granted. Assumptions, which litter the play and are exposed continuously, add a cerebral element, dramatically increasing the entertainment quotient. This is most evident in the third act it is also the one which introduces the delightful Maria Hausmann in a video segment from one of Katurian’s stories.
An intriguing aspect of the play is its few time and place details. Exactly as it should be, Simon Du Toit tells Eyes on Windsor. There are few clues beyond it might be staged in Ireland but all the names are Eastern European. There was a thought, he adds, of doing the play with Irish accents but the decision was to proceed in a sort of time and place vacuum, which, oddly enough, has no real impact on the story and gives it an ethereal vibe.
Curiously, what seems to happen is not really what is happening even up to the ending. These twists of the character’s fate makes the story, as it rolls out, both refreshing and unpredictable. It is, as its promoters will tell you, one of the most significant productions of the year. They say this without any hyperbole and are exactly right.
One of its greatest virtues is the combination of stage and video. It all works so well despite the play being as dark as a mid-winter Arctic night with just the right amount of levity thrown in, obviously strategically.
Post Productions Theatre is one of intimacy. McDonagh’s story telling is ideally suited to such a theatre. It is a true case of the five actors being able to effectively convey the plot without a hitch while the action continues without a pause. It is a unique production which succeeds for a very frank reason, it works on so many levels, and warrants being seen.
The Pillowman is directed by Michael K. Potter and produced by Potter, Fay Lynn and Michael O’Reilly. Video content was produced by Live-Action Films, edited by Mitchell Branget, and Animated Films, co-directed and animated by Kieran Potter. Sadie Alejandria is stage manger, Matthew Burgess set and prop design with lighting by Carter Dersch.
Pillowman plays at The Shadowbox Theatre on November 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 & December 5, 6, 7, 2019. Showtimes are 8pm each night with tickets selling at $25 each. For more information or to purchase tickets online in advance visit http://www.postproductionswindsor.ca
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.