In Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” the writer Katurian Katurian (Jamal Wilson) finds himself called in for a police interrogation, no small thing under the totalitarian government in which he lives.
As detectives/investigators Tupolski (Jonah Hardt) and Ariel (Garrett Borel) get into their tag-team questioning, their reasons begin to surface: Some of the author’s unsettling short stories involving child violence have details that resemble those uncovered in some recent brutal child murders.
Are his stories revealing a connection to the murders? Sheer coincidence? And why is his mentally slow brother Michal (Christian Trigleth) being detained as well?
On the surface, it looks like a police procedural, a mystery needing solution, but as the investigation proceeds and some of Katurian’s dark fairy tales come to life, the play drifts into questions of creativity and repression, of imagination and inspiration, of shades of truth.
While the subject matter and implied violence make it strong going for some audiences, McDonagh’s use of language, humor and dialogue creates a play that’s more dark comedy than grim drama, the director said.
“McDonagh’s an amazing playwright . . . almost David Mamet-ial in his language,” said Elizabeth Talbot, the McLennan Community College theater and stage movement instructor who directs the McLennan Theatre production of “The Pillowman.” The play opens a four-performance run on Thursday.
“It’s not suitable for children. It’s quite graphic in parts and we retained some of the (strong) language,” she said. McDonagh’s intent wasn’t to make audiences squirm, however, but spark some thinking about storytelling, imagination and the effect a writer has on his or her readers, she added.
Talbot, who grew up in England and studied theater in London, noted that McDonagh’s 2003 Olivier Award-winning play is standard fare in many English theater schools.
“The Pillowman’s” language feels more British than American in its rhythm and structure, though Talbot’s four principal actors and nine ensemble players won’t be adopting English accents. The play is staged in MCC’s Music & Theatre Arts Building theater, a smaller space whose intimacy ratchets up the play’s emotional intensity.