A writer in a totalitarian state is brought in for questioning because the contents of his stories bear an uncanny resemblance to a series of brutal murders. Has he committed them? He professes not to understand why the police are so interested in his stories, or his life. But if he didn’t commit these murders, what’s going on?
Martin McDonogh’s dark comedy, The Pillowman, is a disturbingly funny story about people who see the world in vastly different ways, and so don’t understand each other, united in mutual confusion. Katurian (played by Eric Branget), the writer, might ask us to experience the story this way. After all, he repeatedly insists that his stories don’t mean anything, aren’t intended to make any sort of moral or political point, that there are no symbols or metaphors to be found. He doesn’t bear any responsibility because his stories are just stories.
But McDonagh, the puppet master pulling the strings in this fiendishly clever script, clearly has other ideas. Early on, he has Katurian declare that “The only duty of a writer is to tell a story” – yet the story he’s telling seems to contradict that statement. Certainly the police officers – Tupolski (played by Simon Du Toit) and Ariel (played by Fay Lynn) – don’t buy it. They’re convinced Katurian had something to do with these murders, and that the clues necessary to solve the crimes can be found in his stories – in what they’re really saying, below the surface. In their “pointers.”
And then there’s the matter of Katurian’s mentally-challenged brother, Michal (played by Joey Wright), a sweet and simple man who has been cared for by his younger brother for many years. What does he know about Katurian’s alleged crimes? What does he know about his stories? Tupolski and Ariel plan to execute Michal and his brother before the night is over, so there isn’t much time to uncover the truth.
As the story unfolds onstage, we hear seven of Katurian’s stories. In Post Productions’ unique staging, those stories are brought to life through a combination of live-action short films (co-directed, edited and photographed by Mitchell Branget) and animated shorts (co-directed and animated by Kieran Potter). As the stories come to life through these films, aided by a mesmerizing score composed and recorded by Dave Nisbet (aka DTB), we are drawn into the fertile and disturbing world of Katurian’s imagination. We come to understand him. Does that understanding make us more sympathetic to his claims of innocence – or less?
As with all the best stories, The Pillowman can’t really be boiled down into just one subject or theme. The best stories are about many things that converge in the particular characters working through their particular challenges. Each character in The Pillowman is complicated, with motivations and histories and needs and fears that we can’t always figure out – just like real people in real life.
The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh runs November 22, 23, 28, 29, 30;Decmber 5, 6 & 7 at The Shadowbox Theatre. Doors open 7:30 PM; performances begin 8:00 PM. Tickets are $25 at postproductionswindsor.ca or cash at the door.