VLT’s Stage II production of The Pillowman visits some very dark places.
By Kay Kipling
Those familiar with playwright Martin McDonagh’s work (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, etc.) will not be shocked or surprised by the content of his play The Pillowman, now showing at Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II. Although the action of The Pillowman is not set in Ireland, as most of McDonagh’s works are, it still possesses the dark, twisted humor mixed with violence and acts of cruelty that some will find themselves enjoying and others may be repulsed by.
The play opens in the setting of an interrogation room in a totalitarian state, where a writer of fiction, Katurian (Jeremy Heideman), nervously tries to answer the questions of two policemen, even though he’s not sure what they’re really asking about. (Sounds a little Kafka-esque, perhaps, but as McDonagh slyly has Katurian admit, he’s not really sure about the “esque” thing.) Turns out his stories, several of which we hear told during the course of the evening, bear an odd resemblance to actual cases of child murders that have recently taken place, and in an extreme example of the classic good cop-bad cop routine, his interrogators are determined to extract a confession through whatever means necessary, including torture.
Meanwhile, in the next room, Katurian’s slightly retarded brother Michal (Steve O’Dea) is also being tortured—or is he? And what buried secrets bind these brothers together, going way back to the deaths of their parents? We see some of the past re-enacted, too; and while the details are horrific, they’re also presented in a nonrealistic manner that keeps us from being deeply disturbed by them.
If it sounds squirm-inducing, it’s really not, because McDonagh is clever, fast and funny enough to pull this morbid material off. And, under the intense direction of Murray Chase, the cast at VLT pulls it off, too. Heideman and O’Dea are especially good in the longish scene that reveals for us their past and ongoing relationship, and Heideman is likewise convincing in scenes with the cops as the alternately scared and defiant writer who ultimately just wants to save his life’s work. Neil Kasanofksy and Ronald Krine Myroup as the cops are fun to watch in a sick sort of way; Kasanofsky’s Tupolski, supposedly the good cop, is actually full of sarcastic detachment, while Myroup, initially a tightly wound sadist, later reveals other sides to his character as well.
Neil Kasanofsky and Jeremy Heideman in The Pillowman.
With plenty of strong language, graphic imagery of torture and references to other despicable acts, The Pillowman will certainly not be for everyone, including children (although even young children, perhaps especially young children, often have dark fantasies like the ones McDonagh presents). But for McDonagh fans and others who may just be curious about the prize-winning playwright’s work, it’s a performance worth seeing.
The Pillowman continues at Stage II through March 30; for tickets call 488-1115 or visit venicestage.com.