“The Pillowman,” which runs through this weekend at Lane Community College’s little Blue Door Theater, is a bizarre, dark, funny, sweet and very challenging play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. Let’s get right to the point of this review: Go see it, if you have even the slightest interest in local theater. The production is unforgettable — especially considering that this is a student show.
First off, it’s an amazing and weird script. The 2003 play took the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Play, the 2004-5 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Foreign Play, and two Tony Awards for production.
The story is a bit hard to summarize without blowing the plot. Suffice it to say that as the play opens, Katurian (played warmly by Taylor Freeman), a failed writer of strange fables involving children, has been arrested by agents of some indefinitely situated police department, and is being interrogated by two detectives about the murders of three small children. It soon becomes clear that Katurian’s retarded brother, Michal (Cash McAllister), is also in custody, and is also being interrogated, which is a polite word for tortured, in the bleak confines of the gray security state.
This launches us into an extended and occasionally uncomfortable exploration of the power of stories not only to record but to define and to project our lives. By the end of the play’s three acts, we are pretty sure we know who killed whom and why — let’s just say the sins of the parents are visited upon the children — but we’re much less certain who is to blame, and why.
Tara Wibrew directed the show with apparent genius. It’s quick and sharp and, for such a dark tale, even fun. McDonagh’s rich language comes across, as delivered by her young actors, not just as poetry but with the rhythms of music itself. The set, by Amy Dunn, is understated and just right. This is a longish, three-act play, and not a moment drags.
Now to the truly amazing part. I mean, exactly where the hell did Wibrew find this cast?
First off, David Arnold as the good cop Tupolski is so dead-on right, not to mention perfectly gorgeous — and I’m not even gay! — that it’s hard to take your eyes off him in the extended interrogation scenes with Katurian. With amazing control of his expression, he captures the sophisticated, repressed character of the senior detective who is trying to nail a murderer. I’ve never seen Arnold before, and don’t know who he is, but I trust he has a golden future in theater.
Next up, Taylor Freeman as Katurian, the warped writer: Freeman handles an extremely ambiguous role with grace and tact. We’re never quite sure of Katurian’s guilt or innocence, and Freeman projects this uncertainty very nicely.
The second act consists of a long scene with Katurian’s less-than-fully-abled brother, Michal, played by Cash McAllister. The play began as an exercise in Kafka and soon seems to veer into John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” territory — except that McAllister’s Michal, in his wonderfully wobbly way, soon lays claim to far more truth and authority than Katurian ever has to offer.
This feels like a professional show. I said this before, and I’ll say it again. Go see this play this weekend, while you still can.