Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman is a very dark show with some production elements that make it difficult to stage. I read it years ago and fell in love with the script; I’ve always hoped I’d get to see it staged someday (because give me a dark and moody show any day – that’s my one true theater love.) When I saw Going Dark Productions, a relatively new theater group, was staging it, I was delighted, but a little nervous – would it stand up to what I was expecting, and could they pull it off? Happily, the answer to both of those questions is a decided yes.
Katurian (Brian McBride Land), a writer in a totalitarian regime, is brought in for questioning by detectives Tupolski (Laura Darling) and Ariel (Connor M. Finnerty) because some of elements in his stories resemble recent child murders in the area. Katurian’s mentally handicapped brother, Michal (Victoria Summit) is also brought in for questioning, but they are kept separate from one another. Katurian denies any connection to the murders, but after he’s allowed to speak to his brother, his story begins to change.
The staging of the show is simple – mostly a dark, shadowy stage, with set pieces (a table, a bed, a cabinet) brought in as needed, perfect for helping the audience experience Katurian’s sudden displacement. Katurian’s stories are told in innovative ways, as well – different characters tell them, which brings different emotions to the words, or, in one of the most effective bits of stagecraft, they are projected in cartoon form (animated starkly and disturbingly by Jason Harlow) on a white screen, narrated offstage by Land. The play is quite violent, and the violence is well-choreographed and believable.
Land does an impressive job as Katurian, having his life completely overturned in one evening. He truly shines in scenes with Summit – their connection as brothers is believable, deep and touching. Land’s reading of Katurian’s stories is excellent, as well – he puts feeling in them, making them come alive for the audience. Summit’s Michal is delightful to watch – she obviously put much work into her character and it shows. She’ll have you laughing at one moment and knock the breath out of you the next. Darling gave it her all as Tupolski, and her monologue where she tells a story of her own is the highlight of her performance. Finnerty has his moments in questioning Land, but could benefit from slowing down a bit – sometimes his words are lost in his delivery.
The show is one to make you think – about the nature of story and narrative, what we leave behind when we’re gone, what our obligations are as writers, what forms us, how it does that, and if it can be denied. Director Sean T. Baldwin has done a fine job with this difficult show and has shown he doesn’t shy away from a challenge – I very much look forward to seeing what this group offers the Capital Region in the future.
“The Pillowman,” Going Dark Productions, Albany Barn, 56 Second St., Albany, through September 16, $12-$10, Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with a 10-minute intermission, https://www.goingdarkproductions.com/