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The Pillowman
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Foizey
Theatre Lab
May 30, 2015

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

The Pillowman is a work that’s at once profoundly disturbing and intensely thought-provoking. It’s a challenging concept that’s constructed in a distinctive and at times fantastical style, with many ideas that are sure to provoke much thought and discussion. It’s also being presented in a thoroughly riveting production by Theatre Lab.

The story of the play is kind of fantastical but realistic. It’s set in an unnamed totalitarian state, although the detectives presented don’t seem a lot different from those seen on US television shows.  As the show opens, we are introduced to Katurian Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), a writer whose day job is in a slaughterhouse because he’s only ever had one story published. He’s been brought in for questioning by two detectives–the seemingly level-headed Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and the more hot-tempered Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). After at first being vague about why Takurian has been brought in, the detectives eventually start drawing attention to Katarian’s short stories and their often violent and disturbing subject matter. The resemblance between a few of the stories and the circumstances surrounding some recent murders of children has caused the detectives to strongly suspect Katurian’s involvement, and also that of his mentally challenged older brother Michal (Nick Kelly), who is initially being held in a nearby room.  There isn’t much I can say beyond this point that isn’t a plot spoiler, but suffice it to say that things get complicated, and the characters aren’t always as they seem. We also get to hear and see some of Katurian’s stories through the use of projections and some striking illustrations by Aaron Allen.  It’s a show that explores many concepts, including parental responsibility, sibling relationships, a writer’s relationship to his own work and his responsibility to his audience, as well as issues of freedom of speech and the roles of police and controlling governments.

There’s a whole lot going on in this play, and the emotional stakes are very high. The tension builds at a rapid and masterful pace, through the use of the sharply written script that makes great use of repetition and recurring themes, as well as Ryan Foizey’s strong direction and the brilliantly simple set by Rob Lippert that suggests a building that was once whole, but has been neglected and has been taken over by decay. The whole atmosphere of this play is well maintained from the outset, and the creepy tone of the stories becomes more and more disturbing, although there is are occasional breaks in the bleakness in the tone of the least violent story, “The Little Green Pig”, that provides a measure of hope.  We are introduced gradually to the rather violent background of the Katurian brothers as well as the detectives who are questioning them, and we are left to think and wonder what kind of world this is that they live in, and how different, really, is that world from our own?

The acting is excellent all around, led by Klefisch in a fearless performance as Katurian. As a writer whose first and ultimate love is writing, he also displays a real responsibility and attachment to his brother–a looming, alternately menacing and sympathetic presence as played terrifically by Kelly. Klefisch is the dominating force of the play, however, with his quirky mannerisms and his determined devotion. There’s strong support from White as the initially even-keeled but increasingly threatening Tupolski, and Garey as the quick-tempered Ariel, about whom there is more than it initially appears.   There’s a strong dynamic between all of the players, with Klefisch and Kelly displaying strong chemistry as brothers, and the dynamics of the scenes with Klefisch and the detectives bringing much compelling and challenging drama.

This isn’t a happy play, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely without hope.  It’s challenging to both the mind and the senses, and audience members may, as I did, find themselves wanting to go home and watch something more upbeat after the play is over.  Still, it’s more than worth the emotional energy spent, and I highly recommend taking a trip to the Gaslight Theatre to witness this dark, thougtful, unrelenting and thoroughly compelling drama.

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

Theatre Lab is presenting The Pillowman at the Gaslight Theatre until June 7, 2015

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