REVIEW: The Pillowman

Martin McDonagh, the playwright of THE PILLOWMAN, is a twisted individual.  All of his plays seem to have a preoccupation with murder and violence; this one is especially heinous in that its about a child killer and the sadistic albeit creative ways methods he uses on his victims.  But more than that, it’s a movie about family and relationships and the truth.  It’s entertaining. It’s even funny.  But it’s incredibly dark.

Falcon Theatre has had its eye on this script for several years, just waiting for the right time to schedule it.  Their timing couldn’t have been any better, given that McDonagh is in the spotlight for his film THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (which coincidentally has a comma in the title . . . there’s this whole bit in THE PILLOWMAN that talks about commas in titles . . .well, you’ll see the irony when you see the play . . .).  Both opening weekend audiences were large, a testament to both the new marketing strategies being employed by the theatre, a popular cast, and McDonaghs’ renewed popularity.

But next weekend’s crowds will largely be even larger and for an additional reason – word of mouth.  I heard a woman leaving the theatre at the end of last night’s performance saying, “This is my first time here and I’ll definitely be back.” To be lured back to a playhouse by a play this potentially off-putting due to its subject matter – well, that’s high praise.

Director Ed Cohen guides his cast through the stylized pitter-patter dialogue familiar to fans of this playwright with a steady hand.  It’s a little jarring at first, the way they speak, but as the actors and audience settle in, it becomes more natural to the ear.  Rory Sheridan plays “Katurian,” the author of ominous fairy tales, many of which involve the demise of children through inventive and creepy means. He is being interrogated by two police officers (Joe Hornbaker and Nathan Tubbs) in some sort of totalitarian state.  Katurian’s older developmentally delayed brother, “Micheal,” is played by Michael Monks.

When Sheridan and Monks are stage together the play really cooks. Monks plays Michael with whimsy, rather than stereotypically “retarded” as he is referred to in the play.  He’s less “Of Mice and Men” than he is a giant teddy bear and his take on the character is enchanting.  Sheridan is at his best when he’s working with someone at his skill level and he and Monks have great chemistry together.

Falcon has stepped up their tech-game this year with their partnership with Chris Strobel, who again creates some excellent projections which Cohen uses to keep the dialogue heavy play moving along.  It’s a nice accompaniment, but not distracting.

I recommend this play, but be aware that there is a lot of violent language and imagery.  I would imagine it would be harder to watch if one had children.  But McDonagh’s examination of love and guilt and vengeance and redemption along with his poetic gift of story telling make this one a sure-fire winner. Get your tickets before they sell out.

THE PILLOWMAN runs at Falcon Theatre in Newport, KY through February 10th. Tickets and more information can be found here.