The Pillowman, currently being performed by The Seeing Place at the Clarion Theatre, opens with the play’s protagonist, Katurian (Brandon Walker), knowing very little of the circumstances of the current situation unfolding. Why has Katurian been taken into custody? Where is he being held? Why won’t anyone talk to him? The audience knows even less: What year is it? Where are we?
From the moment police officers Tupolski (John D’Arcangelo) and Ariel (Logan Keeler) drag the blindfolded Katurian into the room, slam him down and leave him to bleed, squirm, and panic all alone, it feels like this cannot get any better and hopefully not any worse. In the long tradition of playwright Martin McDonagh’s work, that hope feels dim.
It is no surprise that McDonagh, whose work has a long and rich history of mixing the darkest humor with death, murder, mutilation, dismemberment, violence and shock, reveals nothing for the first twenty minutes. The audience, like Katurian, are left to piece together what has happened as the detectives go about their ambiguous questioning. Katurian keeps insisting he is just a writer, whose work often revolves around children’s stories that involve their death, dismemberment, and abuse, and has no idea why he is there.
During interrogation the detectives reveal that children are being murdered based off of Katurian's stories, and he is their chief suspect and the only key to the saving the latest victim, a young deaf girl who went missing three days prior. The detectives, who care little for the craftsmanship of the stories, have also taken into custody Katurian’s mentally disabled brother, Michal (Daniel Michael Perez). Mr. D’Arcangelo and Mr. Keeler work well together in the classic good cop/bad good scenario. Mr. D’Arcangelo brings an understatement and humor to the very grave proceedings while Keeler remains believably anxious, angry, and intense.
The Pillowman is a complex play that merges the realism of the interrogation and murders with the imagination of the storyteller—in this case, the reenactments of Katurian’s short stories (there are 400, only two of which do not end with murder). With lighting changes and visual effects, the play shifts between the imagined (acted out by the three storyteller characters) and the real. It is the kind of play that questions what is real and fake and how each character perceives the two.
Mr. Walker does the brunt of the work on stage, performing several monologues throughout the evening. Throughout the first act Mr. Walker’s use of arrogance and at times indifference to the unfolding events plays well with the contrast in the second act. He makes you believe his complete devotion to his writing and seeing it outlive him, as the world begins to close in on him.
While there is a great deal of horrific images and twisted fantasies, there is an equal amount of humor in McDonagh’s writing, which, under the direction of Mr. Walker and Erin Cronican, does not always play out. It is understandable that the subject matter of murdered children can be overwhelming for audiences. However, this should not deter. It is okay to laugh – even if dead children may be involved.