“To do white hot drama, in a tiny black box, with a little red twist.” That’s Redtwist theatre’s tagline, and they are boldly demonstrating it in their intense production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.
Without revealing too much, the story focuses on an author named Katurian (a deeply compelling, if slightly too young, Andrew Jessop) who is undergoing a brutal interrogation regarding the content of his sadistic short stories and their eerie similarities to the bizarre and gruesome deaths of local children. Two policemen, Tom Hickey as the “good cop” and Johnny Garcia as the “bad cop,” are dead set on pressuring Katurian and his highly impressionable younger brother (Peter Oyloe, doing quite well with a very difficult role) to admit their guilt.
The drama is “white hot,” indeed. McDonagh’s play maintains perpetual unbalance. Just when you start to feel a faint sense of familiarity, he rips the rug out from under you with a brutal plot discovery, a deeply sadistic scene, or an emotional unveiling. And, in this compact staging (more on that soon), the looks of the stunned audience members across from you seem to ask, “Is it time to laugh? Or to gasp?” Uncertainty is the name of the game here.
Director Kimberly Senior’s staging redefines “tiny black box.” She has set the primary action in an interrogation room, with seating lining both sides of the confining space. Tears and blood are shed–at times, only inches from you. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tucking your legs under your chair to ensure you don’t disturb the intense action playing out, quite literally, at your feet.
Two key short stories of Katurian’s are play-acted, in a highly-stylized panoramic tone, behind curtains to the left and right sides of the interrogation space. It’s a creepy, unexpected effect that, again, throws you off balance and resets your expectations. One of the more disquieting scenes features Marissa Meo, an honor roll sixth-grader, who undergoes some disturbing onstage brutality.
As for “the little red twist”? There’s more than enough fake blood in this production to make you pity the backstage crew’s cleanup detail at the end of each performance. (If you haven’t caught on by now, this show is not intended for young audience members or those who are uncomfortable with authentically staged violence and/or gun shots.)
However, aside from impressive gore, fight scenes, and intimate seating, the driving force of this show is the theme of “storytelling,” and Senior keeps things clear and focused in this regard. As we were taught in debate class, a well-crafted story is always more compelling than facts or figures, and each character in this play recognizes this power–though they aren’t quite prepared for the resulted impact.
Redtwist has delivered a carefully measured and highly engrossing production that’s not afraid to explore the darker sides of human nature. Here’s to hoping the Pillowman doesn’t come looking for you.
The Pillowman runs through December 27, 2009 at the Redtwist theatre. For more information, visit www.redtwist.org