New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Pillowman"
Booth Theatre, Manhattan

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who has already distinguished himself with “The Beauty Queen of Lenane,” and other plays which reflect his ethnic background, now explores new areas. Both geographic location and format have taken on new form in this most recent endeavor.

“The Pillowman,” now playing on Broadway, is indeed a departure for McDonagh, and he is to be commended for this daring foray into new worlds, when he could very well have continued to write absorbing Irish plays.

“The Pillowman” is offbeat, quirky, different, and highly disturbing. It deals with a suspect brought in to a police station for questioning. Small children have been tortured and murdered. The alleged perpetrator, one Katurian Katurian Katurian, is in turn treated to torture as the two policemen, Topolski and Ariel, use every method to wring out a confession. The setting is an unnamed police state, where such methods are, presumably, acceptable.

Katurian is targeted because he is a writer of gruesome tales, which exactly duplicate the real crimes. But is Katurian in fact guilty? Or is his retarded brother the murderer? Or are either guilty?

As the audience wrestles with these facts, and with the revelations of the brothers’ lives, McDonagh presents more universal underlying themes. What is the line between reality and fiction? Or is fiction, the work of a writer, the true reality? And, since art endures beyond an artist’s life, is art indeed the more significant?

At the same time, McDonagh creates four distinctive characters: the tortured Katurian, the violent Ariel, the circumspect Topolski (the good cop, as he describes himself), and finally the retarded brother. McDonagh’s creation of this last character, with his eagerness, warmth, simplicity, would seem to be right on target.

The production itself is carefully-crafted, under John Crowley’s direction. Flashbacks to the brothers’ earlier lives are colorful little gems set, as it were, in picture frames. They are in sharp contrast to the bleak interrogation room of the station. And casting is strong, with Billy Crudup (Katarian), Jeff Goldblum (Topolski), Zeljko Ivanek (Ariel), Michael Stuhlbarg (Michal), and other supporting actors.

In all, this new departure of McDonagh comes across as provocative and unsettling, well worthy of thought, but, at the close, one longs for a return to those homey Irish pubs.

-- Irene Backalenick
May 14, 2005

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