WINDY CITY TIMES
by Jonathan Abarbanel
This article shared 3544 times since Wed Jan 13, 2010
Playwright: Martin McDonagh. At: redtwist ( sic ) theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Tickets: 773-728-7529; www.redtwist.org; $22-$30. Runs through: Feb. 6 ( extension possible )
Non-violent fairy tales pretty much were the 19th-century invention of Hans Christian Andersen ( Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, etc. ) . The older fairy-tale universesuch as those collected by the Brothers Grimmis brutal and wicked with children as the frequent victims and innocence quickly lost.
Originally produced in 2003, The Pillowman is similar to Guillermo del Toro's 2006 film, Pan's Labyrinth, in creating fairy-tale parallels to real-world brutality. Pan's Labyrinth concerns a small girl in World War II Spain who may be the reborn princess of an underground fairy kingdom. The Pillowman, set in a modern Eastern European police state, concerns Katurian, an obscure writer of fairy tales who is interrogated and tortured. The little girl's fairy realmwhich may or may not be realand Katurian's fictional stories are just as darkly brutal as real-world societies, and neither the girl nor the writer is innocent. Although we sympathize with Katurian, he's murdered three adults and is complicit in the deaths of three children whose murders precisely duplicate the violence of his fairy tales.
More literary than the film, The Pillowman constructs boxes within boxes to tease the audience. Thus, Katurian and his slow-witted brother have a family history much like one of Katurian's fairy tales, while the two police officers reveal personal information uncannily close to Katurian's experience. Like Del Toro's film, The Pillowman suggests we all have monsters within us and innocence doesn't exist. McDonagh also asks if personal darkness evolves from nature or nurture.
The Pillowman is emotionally and physically discomforting, populated with psychic and physical horrors from which audiences need space. However, this production forces viewers into an intensely intimate relationship with the actors by configuring the already-tiny storefront ( 35 seats ) into a narrow alley stage between facing rows of seats. It limits the physical blocking, makes the stage violence less realistic and requires the actors to deliver often-heightened stage language in a conversational manner, which too often sounds artificial. Literally too close for comfort, the audience sees all the trees but misses the forest of a complete stage picture. The curtained-off ends of the space become side stages used briefly to act out Katurian's tales. These are set pieces with production values more elaborate than the interrogation scenes, but they come at the expense of those scenes. Perhaps some plays shouldn't be attempted in the redtwist space.
I don't mean to suggest this is a bad showfar from it. Highly respected veteran director Kimberly Senior and her cast clearly understand the play's intellectual and emotional complexities, and sometimes deliver them with considerable power and nuance. But they scale down the acting to fit the space rather than realizing the play's full theatrical potential. The Pillowman isn't a police procedural; it's a dark fantasy.
This article shared 3544 times since Wed Jan 13, 2010
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