The Pillowman and
Set in an unnamed totalitarian state, The Pillowman follows a struggling writer, Katurian, who has been brought in for questioning. It's not due to any political views he has expressed. It's that his stories have been played out in a series of brutal child murders. As it turns out, Katurian is innocent - but his mentally damaged brother Michal is not. And, as we dig deeper into Katurian's mind, his morbid tales were sparked by horrific acts perpetrated on the two by their parents in a sort of art experiment.
McDonagh is playing with heavy topics throughout and isn't afraid to push buttons that aren't often even looked at, let alone pushed, including one story that mixes the torture and murder of a child with the crucifixion. In many ways, it reminds me of Quills, except the Marquis de Sade was always in control of his muse in that play, while Katurian is truly at the mercy of his imagination. Of course, both are more interested in the fate of their creations than themselves; and both face societies that don't want to acknowledge the truth that lies within the work.
Early on, Katurian describes his work as being like a "puzzle without a solution." That can be said for the show as well. It's the kind of meaty, difficult work that Frank excels at producing, and The Pillowman stands well with the company's body of work. Fueled by a supreme and subtle performance by Jim Lichtscheidl as the tormented author, and supported by solid turns by Luverne Seifert and Chris Carlson as the police interrogators, the show rarely drags, even though it is lengthy and often not easy to watch.
Knox's spare direction and Joel Sass' striking set design - made up of hard angles and tarnished copper - only add to the sense of oppression and, yes, even suffocation. The end arrives with not so much a sense of satisfaction, but of relief that the descent into this mad world has ended, even if the tales - and parallels to our own world - continue to haunt the mind long after the show is done.
The Pillowman runs through Oct. 14 at the Guthrie Theater. For tickets, call 612.377.2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Photo: © 2007 George Byron Griffiths
I could spend time talking about the plot of the The Rocky Horror Show, but really, who has paid any attention to the story since the musical went from being a quirky onstage success to the darling of the midnight movie crowd? In a nutshell - they do the "Time Warp"; nearly everyone in the cast wears ladies' underwear and fishnet stockings; and while toast is banned (no food is allowed in the Ordway), a participation kit allows the audience to play out their favorite moments with the cast.
That extra layer of participation has become an integral part of the show, and this production embraces it full force. While the opening-night audience was a bit reserved, the extra players in the cast helped out, sharing some of the more famous bits of additional dialogue and adding a few Twin Cities touches of their own.
Monte Wheeler embraces every second on stage as mad scientist/alien/"Sweet Transvestite" Frank 'n' Furter, and does a fine job of channeling his inner Tim Curry into the role, singing with great gusto and making the most out of his "dramatic" scenes. Bradley Beahen and Nicole Fenstad both showcase the youthful innocence and libertine impulses of Brad and Janet. And Phil Kilbourne makes the "no-neck" Narrator a boozy combatant with the heckling crowd.
More than 30 years on, Rocky Horror has lost plenty of its shock value - even in St. Paul - but it still can be scads of fun, especially during the first act, one-two punch of "Sweet Transvestite" and "Time Warp" (led by an engaging Randy Schmeling as Riff Raff, always excellent Simone Perrin as Columbia and excellent Nicky Schuenke as Magenta) and the epic second-act floor show, which works much better in a theater than it ever did in the film.
The Rocky Horror Show runs through Nov. 25 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, St. Paul. For tickets and more information, call 651-224-4222 or visit www.ordway.org.