Sunday, October 05, 2014

F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company Opens Its 2014-2105 Season With "The Pillowman" by Martin McDonagh - Not For The Faint of Heart

Martin McDonagh is a prolific and oft-praised Irish playwright whose plays have garnered awards in Ireland, England and the U.S.  "The Pillowman" is certainly his darkest work, and requires fortitude on the part of the audience members to accept the subject matter and then to chew over what McDonagh is trying to say to us through his black humor.  The basic plot line of the play is laid out below.  I will not offer any additional plot hints for fear of spoiling some of the twists and turns that make this play such a gut-wrenching evening of theater.

How does one handle producing and performing a play that at its heart is about the murder of children? The answer is: boldly!  And that is what F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company has chosen to do under the direction of Joey DeMita.  This is a play that rises or falls on the ability of the actors to entice us into their Kafkaesque artificial world - a totalitarian state (think of "1984") in which one can never know if what the authorities are saying should be believed.  The four principal actors and the three supporting actors work together here with the precision of high wire acrobats.  Any slip may result in a disastrous fall, but in the performance that I attended, they were spot on in creating credible characters and taking those characters along individual arcs that were sometimes predictable and at other times jarring in their shocking reversals.

The themes that McDonagh tackles in this tragedy are protean in their breadth and depth:

  • What are the limits of legitimate authority?
  • To what degree is a victim of abuse responsible for his actions when he repeats the same abuses that have been heaped upon him?
  • How deeply do the "sins of the fathers" descend down the family tree?
  • What responsibility does an artist have for the way in which others are inspired to act by what he has created?
  • How similar are the police and those they are called to investigate and oversee?
  • When one is in isolation, who does one know who to believe and what to believe?
  • What could motivate someone to harbor murder in his heart toward innocent children?
  • What is the nature of the mortality of the flesh and immortality of art?
These themes are artfully interwoven by the playwright and by the cast.

Matt Phillipps plays Katurian, a writer of over 400 stories - only one of which has been published in a questionable periodical.  Except for one egregious exception, his stories contain scenes of violence, abuse and often murder of young children.  Mr. Phillipps is mesmerizing in this performance.  Our perception of him swings wildly from someone who appears to be a meek and compliant artist to someone capable of standing up to the abusive detectives to someone tenderly telling stories to his flawed brother and finally to someone capable of violence.  Part of his journey is a progression from wanting to protect his brother, then trying to protect himself, and finally to desperately striving to preserve his writing.  Along that pathway, Mr. Philipps pulls out all the emotional and verbal stops.

J. Mark Morrison portrays Detective Tupolski - the "good cop."  Mr. Morrison is rock steady in this portrayal, using his height to great advantage to suggest subtle intimidation of Katurian - often hovering over him or leaning into him to drive home a point about what the consequences will be if he does not come clean.  The audience thinks we know him - until we learn something about his motivation to protect children, and then seeing him in an uncharacteristic role during a climactic scene.

Ryan MacPherson plays Ariel - the "bad cop" or "the heavy."  Mr. MacPherson's character undergoes some interesting changes.  At first he appears to be nothing more than the dumb, sadistic petty tyrant who seems to come right out of Central Casting for stereotypical cops.  But as the play progresses, layers are peeled away and we begin to recognize the human being beneath the bravura. It is an excellent performance.

Paul Kmiec is Michal, Katurian's damaged brother.  His mind has been twisted as his body endured seven years of abuse at the hands of his parents.  What is "arresting" about Mr. Kmiec's performance is that he underplays the damaged aspects and affect of Michal's personality.  We learn about Michal and his background long before we ever see him.  I had conjured up an image of what this mentally crippled individual might look like and act like.  Mr. Kmiec came on stage looking like a very normal twenty-something.  It was only as his interactions with his brother became more complex and contentious that we begin to discern how his psychic and emotional wiring has been short-circuited. Mr.  Kmiec's portrayal of Michal is subtle and heart-rending, and deserving of high praise.

Supporting these four principals are strong performances by AnneMarie Alvarez as Mother, Adam Schuler as Father and Sam Greene as Boy.  The simple set consists of three panels and doorways, suggesting an interrogation room.  The screens were also used very effectively as scrims to show in shadow some of the "back story" of the play.

"The Pillowman" is by no means lightweight or fluffy entertainment, and it may cause you to toss and turn on your own pillow, but it is well worth seeing.

October 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 at 8:00 p.m.October 5 at 2:00 p.m.
Arsenal Center for the Arts
321 Arsenal St.
Watertown, MA

More about The Pillowman: 

A writer in a totalitarian country has been dragged in for questioning and probable torture by the police. It seems that Katurian writes stories in which children are horribly murdered and someone in town has been imitating his stories. Including the ones that haven't been published. But the police control the papers -- so have there really been any child murders, or have the police faked them in order to dispose of a writer whose work disgusts them? The plot is twisty-turny beyond belief and viciously funny. Winner of the 2004 Olivier Award for Best Play (London) and nominated for the 2005 Tony Award for Best Play.

Performance Schedule:

Friday, October 3rd at 8:00 PM (Opening)
Saturday, October 4th at 8:00 PM (Press Opening)
Sunday, October 5th at 2:00 PM
Thursday, October 9th at 8:00 PM
Friday, October 10th at 8:00 PM
Saturday, October 11th at 8:00 PM


Katurian - Matt Phillipps
Tupolski - J. Mark Morrison
Ariel - Ryan MacPherson
Michal - Paul Kmiec

Fudge Theatre Website



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