The Wilma Theatre gives this play its Philadelphia premiere, under the direction of Jiri Zizka. I have attended nearly every production the Wilma has done over the past few years, and this is one of its finest. The world could be any place, at any time, but as the play delves into the question of freedom of speech, however macabre, and the torture of criminal suspects until they confess to anything, regardless of truth, overtones of here and now loom over the story. Why shouldn't a man write gruesome tales, if they are what inspires him? And why shouldn't those stories, the only claim to immortality a person may have, matter more than innocence or guilt?
Make no mistake, however. Dire as the stakes may be, grim as the play's themes may seem, McDonagh writes with such dry, black humor that watching Pillowman holds the dark fascination of a car accident; you may not want to look, but it becomes impossible to tear your eyes away. Zizka has created a tight, crisply paced production that creates alternating hilarity and revulsion. As Detective. Tupolski, Tony nominee Lewis J. Stadlen's comic timing is impeccable. After Katurian receives yet another horrific beating at the hands of Detective Ariel, Tupolski glances up from his paperwork and observes, "in case you haven't noticed, he's the bad cop. I'm the good cop," as though he were discussing the chance of rain that night. Saxon Palmer, as the unfortunate author, balances deadly earnest and flippant wit, whether he pleads for his life or relates the bizarre series of circumstances that made him into the talent he is now. Also of particular note is Peter Pryor, whose portrayal of the mentally damaged brother Michal is at once heartbreaking and infuriating. Eleven-year-old Kalev Patrick Rudolph (Boy) and twelve-year-old Michaela Schuchman (Girl) do a charming job in their respective roles.
Robert Pyzocha's set captures the feel of an abandoned warehouse, and the cutaway walls that reveal Katurian's fictional world offer just the right touch of the surreal. This sense is augmented by Janus Stefanowicz's costumes, especially those of the Mother and Father in Katurian's flashbacks and stories. The lighting, designed by Jerold R. Forsyth, is also praiseworthy, whether it is the stark whites of a torture room, or the subtly fantastic pinks and greens of Katurian's surreal fantasy world.
Whether for its twisted plot or its whipcrack funny dialogue, The Pillowman is worth seeing. It is Zizka at his finest, with a cast that really gets it. Together they enliven McDonagh's story, drawing the audience in and making it impossible to look away.
The Pillowman runs through November 5 (Tuesdays at 6:30pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Wednesday matinee on 11/1 at 2pm. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Sunday evening performance on 10/22 and 10/29 at 7:30pm.) Tickets on sale for $35-$50, with $10 student rush tickets on day of performances and half-price general rush tickets available 30 minutes before performances. Box Office: 215-546-7824
The Pillowman Cast and Crew:
Jiri Zizka: Director