‘The Pillowman’ is no one to fall asleep on

By Nicole Osuch
October 27, 2006

Shane Evans

“The Pillowman,” an award-winning Broadway play written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Jiri Zizka, opened Oct. 11 at the Wilma Theater. “The Pillowman” is a provocative story about story telling that grabs audience’s attention with its down right gruesome murders of children and confrontational and scornful sense of humor.

The play begins in a totalitarian country prison. Within the prison walls Katurian, a writer, is being drilled about his short stories by detectives Tupolski and Ariel. These stories eerily resemble the murders of three children. Katurian learns that his mentally-impaired brother is also being held in the prison.

Audiences begin to wonder if the brothers had anything to do with the murders or if the murders have truly even occurred. The play centers around seven stories that all send the message of how impressionable stories can be. With the likelihood that he will be executed, Katurian pleads with the detectives to not destroy his legacy by burning his stories.

Four thriving and talented actors grace the stage of the Wilma Theater to present audiences with “The Pillowman.” Katurian is played by Saxon Palmer, who has also performed in “Three Sisters” and “Design for Living.” Detectives Tupolski and Ariel are played by Lewis J. Stadlen and Michael Pemberton. Lewis J. Stadlen is probably best known for his performance in “45 Seconds From Broadway,” “The Producers” and his television role on “The Sopranos.” Pemberton has performed on Broadway in “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Picnic.” Michael, the mentally-impaired brother of Katurian is played by Pete Pryor who has most notably performed in “Outrage.”

Katurian draws audiences in with “once upon a time” and then leaves audiences walking away feeling an undeniable passion and confusion towards the play. Controversial stories that are told in the play leave audiences wondering if there were any messages beyond the writer’s totally warped stories that he was trying to get across to audiences.

The play is very timely with the Amish school house shooting of children that happened just weeks ago. There is no doubt that audiences will not feel the similar emotion that they felt after hearing of the Amish school house shooting when they hear Katurian’s twisted stories about children bleeding to death after their toes are cut off.

It was obvious that McDonagh had no social consciousness about what he wrote. The play struck a nerve and was full of controversial ideas that will undoubtedly creep into viewer’s minds for weeks to come. The play was straight up vulgar in its most simplistic form the first hour and half.

However, McDonagh provoked many thoughts through his stories concerning, for example, writer’s responsibility when it comes to what they write and how their stories impact impressionable readers. He also addresses how people justify their behavior, whether capital punishment is right or wrong and whether the mentally-impaired are responsible for their actions.

He also sent the down-beat message that it was okay to smother life and use the Pillowman to escape pain in life or a life that was destined to be unhappy. He wrote that The Pillowman was there to soften things and you were not alone and he gave you a way out. Although the play was often times offensive, it was extremely well written. Martin McDonagh got exactly what he wanted from his audiences and that was a reaction.

If audiences are looking for a story with morals or an overall positive message that gives a ray of hope, then “The Pillowman” is a play to avoid. On the other hand, if audiences are looking to be shocked then this play is definitely worth seeing.

“The Pillowman,” which is playing at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia Oct. 4 – Nov. 5, is nominated for a Tony Award and a winner of the Oliver Award for Best New Play in London. Tickets range from $35 – $50, with $10 student rush tickets offered the day of the performances. In addition, half-price general rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to performances, both subject to availability. To obtain tickets go online at www.wilmatheater.org or call (215) 546-7824.

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Nicole Osuch

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