New York City Theater
In Martin McDonagh's disturbing, smashingly theatrical black comedy, "The Pillowman," Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum are superb as they ponder no less than six (or is it seven?) gruesome murders. Set in an unnamed totalitarian state, the play uses a series of killings to reveal how repressive regimes fear the truth-telling abilities of art.
Katurian Katurian is a writer whose works resemble specific crimes against children. Arrested and interrogated along with his brother, he pleads, "I tell stories, no axe to grind, no anything to grind." Still, he's not without guilt (and, some might say, social responsibility) and the play is not only a whopping good time but both a personal and political tragedy about the damage that damaged lives can cause.
The author takes his time and moves his characters like pawns in the first act. The tension builds slowly, as McDonagh revels in suspenseful unfolding. But the eventual effect is a dawning of horror and puzzlement, climaxing in one of the most startling scenes in recent memory.
Crudup belies his good looks to etch a stunning, complex portrait of Katurian, a slaughterhouse custodian who has given up on life and wishes not only to be left alone but willing to sacrifice himself to preserve his art. Goldblum is funny and terrifying as the stolid "good cop" Tupolski, a beast whose sarcasm makes him all the more dangerous.
As the erratic Ariel, the supposedly "bad cop," Zeljko Ivanek is unnerving, prowling about the stage, always ready to attack. As Michal, Katurian's brother, Michael Stuhlbarg memorably builds a devastatingly sad portrait of a man-child at war with himself. It's an award-worthy performance.
John Crowley's taut direction increases in intensity. Scott Pask's grim scenery and costumes, Brian MacDevitt's unerring lighting, Paddy Cunneen's menacing music and Paul Arditti's sound design conspire to scare our pants off.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 15, 2005