Martin McDonagh is a born storyteller. In
plays like The Beauty Queen of Leenane
(1996) and The Cripple of Inishmaan
(1996), he has riveted audiences with tales of macabre intrigue. In The Pillow Man (2003), McDonagh gives his
sense of horror and knack for narrative full rein. Here we meet Katurian
Katurian, a horror story writer who is picked up by the police because his
stories seem eerily similar to actual murders of a succession of local
children. His name recalls Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert, a man who was, in his own
way, obsessed with children, and like Nabokov, McDonagh manipulates with the
lies and truths of storytelling. The play has been produced in Buffalo by the New Phoenix Theatre Company with a first-rate
cast, ably directed by Robert Waterhouse.
Like such plays as The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001) and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, at times the
element of horror makes ThePillow Man both difficult to watch and
impossible to look away from. Katurian Katurian, played with unaffected
sincerity and innocence by Peter Jaskowiak, has an obsession with children who
suffer. We determine that this interest is derived from his own abusive
upbringing, during which he heard his parents torture his mentally disabled
brother, while they lavished attention on him. Richard Lambert gives an
affecting performance as the grown brother who is fascinated by Katurian’s
We see a number of the bizarre short stories
acted out over the course of the evening, in silhouette behind a shadow screen.
In these stories, Tanya Shaffer plays the mother, Kevin Cain plays the father
and Sasha Shaffer plays the child. These three give haunting, stylized
performances, adding to a sense of horror and unreality. The simple but wonderfully
effective set has been designed by Franklin LaVoie. Paul Kolowski has composed
a truly marvelous score for the production, lending an air of heightened drama,
menace and suspense.
The play is set in a police state where
torture is legal. Jeffrey Coyle and Gary Marz play Tupolski and Ariel, a good
cop/bad cop team charged to extract the truth from Katurian by whatever means
necessary. They are perfection in their performances, which make audience
members squirm in their seats as the means they employ include beatings,
threats and electric shock.
What’s at stake is the obligation of the
writer to tell stories, and obligation of ethical human beings to determine the
just outcome of life’s real stories. This production explores these murky
byways in powerful ways.