Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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TAG's dark, disturbing 'Pillowman' offers alternative to holiday stagings

By Ryan Senaga / Special to the Star-Advertiser


Nothing puts one in the holiday spirit quite like heated interrogations, torture and executions in a totalitarian dictatorship.

Thus, TAG (The Actors' Group) brings us "The Pillowman," a deceptively titled drama that centers on a writer who finds himself in prison for reasons unknown. Written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, the 2003 play has received numerous awards as well as a Tony nomination for best play. (McDonagh also wrote and directed the comedic crime films "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths.")

Once the pink bag is removed from his head, we meet Katurian, a short-story scribe being interrogated by two policemen, Tupolski and Ariel. Playing good cop and bad cop, respectively, they begin a line of questioning involving Katurian's writing. The situation gets even more intense when he discovers the cops also have his mentally disabled brother, Michal, in custody.

To say more would ruin the twists and turns of this seemingly spare storyline.

The claustrophobic staging of the play, directed by Troy M. Apostol, before Christmas is a bold move for TAG because the themes of "The Pillowman" are deeply disturbing. We eventually learn that many of Katurian's tales end ominously with the death of a child. We also get numerous instances of torture and an almost Mamet-like amount of profanity. Yet, none of it is gratuitous and all is necessary to serve the darkly comic material.


>> Where: TAG (The Actors’ Group), 650 Iwilei Road, Suite 101
>> When:
7:30 Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 6
>> Cost: $12-$20
>> Info:
722-6941 or

The performances are all appropriately intense. Seth Lilley is convincingly frightened, outraged and egotistic as the writer who may not be as innocent as he seems. Bill Carr brings a gruff geniality as the "good cop" Tupolski, even when telling an obscenely racist story about a deaf Chinese boy. Garrett Hols as the "bad cop" Ariel summons a Daniel Craig-like physicality to his performance, using his body to act out furious aggression. Adam LeFebvre rounds out the main cast with a touch of "Rain Man" as the "slow" brother, Michal.

In light of the recent shooting tragedy in Connecticut, some may find the thematic content of "The Pillowman" additionally disturbing. While it may initially seem inappropriate, the coincidental timing of this production couldn't be better. The play raises relevant questions regarding the influence of violent art on human behavior.

At one point a character asks the writer, "Why does there have to be people like you?" Hence, does our society and culture need evil for good to prevail? And does evil simply exist or is it "raised" from childhood?

Most disturbing is the theory that an artist must suffer for his work to survive. How much and what kind of "suffering" makes creation rewarding for both the creator and the consumer?

It isn't exactly yuletide gaiety, but "The Pillowman" is a skillfully staged, allegorical thought-provoker for our unexpectedly dark days.

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