For the first mainstage production of its fifth season, Widener’s Lone Brick Theatre presents “The Pillowman.” This was originally written by Martin McDonagh in 2003. In an indeterminate time setting, two brothers named Katurian and Michal are arrested as suspects in a brutal series of child murders. During the investigation, the totalitarian police recognize parallels between the murders and the dark stories written by Katurian, the soft-spoken but anxious protagonist. The action takes place in an interrogation room in the first scene and a jail cell in the second, returning to the interrogation room in the third scene.
The story is compelling with the dynamics of good and bad cops and smart and dumb brothers. The play’s black box theater setup is unconventional, having the audience sit on the stage in a U-shaped, stadium-like formation, with the primary entrance behind a wall. Ironically, there was more than enough of an audience for a full house on Thursday, for the stage was overcrowded to the point of some having to sit on the ground instead of chairs.
The writer Katurian, played by Casey Croson, is a tragic character. Incriminated by his disturbing stories, he seems more concerned about his reputation than his life, as he wants to preserve his work which the police threaten to destroy.
In contrast, his brother Michal (Jared Zimmerman) acts child-like and usually does what his brother says, which complicates his understanding of right from wrong. The brothers realistically squabble with one another, but specifically about which one is more like the Pillowman, a fictional character Katurian created. The Pillowman even becomes a minor character as he appears in the second act’s story sequence.
Tupolski (Joel Lawra) is the good cop who avoids the use of excessive force against the brothers, but is apathetic towards the possibility of the suspects getting the death penalty to the point that he even speaks in a happy-go-lucky tone. Ariel (Alexander Ross) is an over-the-top officer who is willing to go to great—even violent—lengths to solve the case, due to it involving the harm of children.
The characters of Ariel and Tupolski border on the edge of unrealistic due to the former’s out-of-control temper and the latter’s smiling yet cold attitude, which doesn’t leave much room for sympathy on the part of the viewer. Although Ross portrays Ariel as hot-tempered, he just hates to see children suffer, which makes him redeemable.
Most of the props on the stage, such as the curtained boxes and the shadow puppet wall, were only used once, which made them appear unnecessary after use. But overall, the play has certainly been amusing for many. The story is not quite scary, nor is it humorous. Moreover, Katurian and Ariel are the only characters easily sympathized with. Still, the actors know how to work their dynamics which makes the play enjoyable for all.
The last performance of “The Pillowman” by Widener’s Lone Brick Theatre will be Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. in Alumni Auditorium, with free admission. Note that this play does contain scenes and language that some may find disturbing, and is not suitable for children or those who may be easily offended.