Pillow Talk

Last night I went with some friends to see the opening night performance of The Pillowman, directed by a friend, Rose Riordan, and with another friend, Kitty, in the cast. Before events like these, where friends are involved, my theatergoing pals Ross and Robin and I usually spend some time thinking in advance about some nice (if not non-sequiter) things we can say about a production that was a disaster. "The costumes and the lighting were great!" or "You're so cute!" You know, kind of like the old Steve Martin SNL routine.

But THIS play is fricking brilliant. Artistic Director Chris Coleman said it best in his program notes, "You read a play like this every 10 years." So true. It's been at least ten years since I've read or seen a modern play with so much beautiful poetry dealing with so much thought-provoking content. Yes there's lots of "content" in today's plays, but for me the difference is the way it's crafted. The dialogue. The poetry! Martin McDonough is by far one of the world's finest living playwrights.

The theatre company has gone out of its way to warn patrons about the gruesome content of the production, but really, in my estimation, this is nothing more "disturbing" than your typical episode of CSI, except with a lot more uses of the f-word. Now I know how some of Portland's more conservative theatergoers are (we've seen people walk out of plays when two men kiss, or when nudity reveals itself, or when an atheist character explains his position) and Rose says they've gotten plenty of walk-outs during previews, too. But seriously: I hope we don't scare folks away with the excessive warnings. Several people we talked to on Friday night seemed to think they'd have to cover their eyes at some point because of gruesome depictions on stage, so let me assure any reader that this is NOT the case. Yes, the concept of murder, especially when it comes to children, is very disturbing. But we see murder stories on broadcast TV dramas all the time, usually for shock-value's sake, but here we're treated to a fantastic bit of theatre that's about all kinds of scary things: art and censorship, totalitarian rule, and prejudice.

For those who are not familiar (and I wasn't), The Pillowman won the Olivier Award for Best Play in 2004 and opened on Broadway in 2005. The main character, Katurian, is a writer of short stories (fairy tales, really), many of which involve children's deaths. Meanwhile, two children in the village have been recently found murdered in fashions that are similar to Katurian's darkest stories. Katurian and his mentally retarded brother stand accused of these murders.

I was a little nervous at the start of this production, but not because of its content. The three actors who open the play in an interrogation scene initially struck me as a little shticky -- the detective chomping on his gum a little too aggressively, the policeman playing up his mafia-like role almost like a cartoon, and the culprit speaking solemnly yet artificially amplifying his voice to ensure that the back row could hear every word he says. And the pacing was swift, noticeably swift, sometimes feeling a tad unnatural, as if we were in full sprint at the start of a marathon.

But every minute further into the play we were pulled in, mesmerized, by the concepts of this play, the craft of the language, the line between fiction and reality. By the second scene, a brief fairy tale of the storyteller's upbringing (hello Kitty!), and the third scene, in which he is imprisoned with his brother (Tim True, you're awesome), I'm telling you, everyone was captivated -- and laughing throughout. Wonderful dark humor here. Intermission percolated with conversations I haven't heard in the theatre for years, and act two delivered an extremely satisfying conclusion to this complex and humorous story.

So, kudos to you , Rose. Kudos to you, Kitty. And yes, the costumes and the lighting were great!


Anonymous said...

Does anybody know when the Oregonian review is supposed to come out? I thought it would be in today's paper but it's not.

culturejock said...

It ran today:


Eh. I like my review better! Bob Hicks always says weird things I don't understand, like this:

"McDonagh's storytelling in "The Pillowman" is deceptively simple, taking its cues from the straightforward "once upon a time" narrative of fairy tales, although admittedly with an overload of a popular Anglo-Saxonism. That's too bad -- not that the word is shocking or offensive, but because from a literary point of view it's a lazy way out. And this is a play that's literary to its core."

What does THAT mean??