Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pillowman (Dobama Theatre)

Dobama’s ‘THE PILLOWMAN’--another memorable theatrical experience

Dobama may not have a permanent home, but it is surely reestablishing itself as the place to find to see well-honed, thought-provoking important new plays. No theatre in the area can match the performance center which was Don Bianchi’s dream and is now Joyce Casey’s life work. Their latest works, ‘A NUMBER,’ ‘NIGHT BLOOMERS,’ and “GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA’ have all been superlative. That streak continues with Martin McDonagh’s ‘THE PILLOWMAN.’

After a 2003 opening in London, the show moved to Broadway in 2005. It starred Jeff Goldblum and Billy Crudup. It won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play, and was nominated for a Tony as best play.

A serious drama with ironic overtones, it tells the tale of Katurian, a fiction writer living in a police state who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories, and their similarities to a number of bizarre incidents occurring in his town. Before it’s over we are exposed to four lives that have all been subjected to abuse and the effect it has on their existence.

Big Apple critics called the play, "the season's most exciting and original new play" and stated that "Those who skip it will miss the best play of the season."

It is interesting that the two strongest plays on Broadway in 2005, ‘DOUBT’ and “THE PILLOWMAN’ both concerned child predators. These plays are art reflecting life. ‘DOUBT’ examines priest pedophilia and McDonagh presents a series of parables of what happens when the human brain conceives a concept and through a series of ironic twists, the parables become realities.

Those who know McDonagh as the author of ‘THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE’ will not be surprised by the script’s strong, metallic voice that has established him as one of today’s theatre wunderkinds. As with his other writing, there is a Kafka-like examination of bureaucratic violence. Even Katurian's name (his first and middle names are also Katurian) makes him a linguistic kin to Humbert Humbert of Nabokov's ‘LOLITA’ and Major Major of Heller's ‘CATCH-22,’ two other Kafkaesque writers.

Dobama’s production, under the able guidance of Sonya Robbins, holds the audience’s attention during the long show. The cast is strong, yet uneven.

Todd Krispinsky as Katurian, the writer, is outstanding. He is totally believable in both his confusion and suffering. His final speech is emotionally and visually wrenching.

Joel Hammer as the chief detective, is properly harsh and cunning. Daniel McElhaney is compelling as Katurian’s child-like older brother. John Kolibab fails to develop any texture to his role as the “bad” cop. He yells from his initial speech, giving his character no place to go when emotional changes are needed. Laura Stitt (mother), Michael Regnier (father) and Jessica Gill (child) are acceptable in their character development.

The meaning of the title? Can’t give that away. You’ll have to see the show.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As a line in the play states, “There are no happy endings in real life.” So, too, is the case with this disturbing play. You don’t go to see ‘THE PILLOWMAN’ to be entertained, you go to be fascinated and disturbed. Keep it up Dobama!