THE PILLOWMAN


SYNOPSIS


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. The only thing I can compare it to is "Deadwood" on HBO, although it's a detective story and not a western.

NEEDED

For The Pillowman I need:

Katurian K. Katurian - just a guy who writes horrific stories. Probably innocent of what the police are accusing him. The Billy Crudup part. Late 20s-early 30s.

Tupolski - The Jeff Goldblum character - Good Cop -- Maybe. Intelligent, quirky, sardonic, funny and heroic for the community despite police brutality. Maybe. 30s-50s.

Ariel - Bad Cop -- Maybe. The bulldog of the two. Fierce, eager to torture anyone on the wrong side of the law. Vicious, inflexible and unprincipled -- maybe. Fiercely protective of children. 30s-50s.

Michal - Katurian's brain-damaged brother, also brought in for questioning. A simple, childlike soul who wouldn't harm a fly. Maybe. Late 20s-early 30s.

A Man late 20s-50s, a Woman late 20s-50s, a Girl age 8-11 and a Boy age 12-14, who act out Katurian's stories.



SYNOPSIS

Some basic facts grabbed from Wikipedia:

The Pillowman is a play by Martin McDonagh. A drama, it tells the tale of Katurian, a fiction writer living in a police state who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories, and their similarities to a number of bizarre incidents occurring in his town.

The play had its world premiere on November 13, 2003 at the Royal National Theatre, starring David Tennant as Katurian, the play's primary focus, Jim Broadbent as Tupolski his lead interrogator, Nigel Lindsay as Ariel, and Adam Godley as Michal. It received the 2004 Olivier Award and an Evening Standard Award nomination for Best New Play. It was directed by John Crowley.

The Pillowman opened on Broadway on April 10, 2005 at the Booth Theatre to rave reviews. Starring Jeff Goldblum as Tupolski, Billy Crudup as Katurian, with Željko Ivanek as Ariel, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Michal, the production won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play (Foreign), Tony Awards for Best Lighting of a play, (Brian MacDevitt), and Best Scenic Design of a Play, Scott Pask, and 2 Drama desk awards: Outstanding Featured Actor, (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Outstanding Sound Design, (Paul Arditti). Jeff Goldblum also received the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play. The play concluded its Broadway run on September 18, 2005.



The New York Times Review:
A Storytelling Instinct Revels in Horror's Fun

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
From left, Billy Crudup, Jeff Goldblum and Zeljko Ivanek.
By BEN BRANTLEY

Published: April 11, 2005

Comedies don't come any blacker than "The Pillowman," the spellbinding stunner of a play by Martin McDonagh that opened last night at the Booth Theater, starring Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum. Even those familiar with this British dramatist's blithe way with murder, mutilation and dismemberment, from works like "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "A Skull in Connemara," may be jolted by the events described and simulated so picturesquely in his latest offering. (Advisory note: severed fingers and heads, electric drills, barbed wire and premature burial all figure prominently.)

The laughs elicited by "The Pillowman" are the kind that trail into gulps and gasps, appropriate to a show that concerns a man under suspicion of torturing and killing children with no mercy and lots of imagination. The exquisitely lurid look of the show, directed by John Crowley and designed by Scott Pask, speaks to fears people mistakenly think they leave behind when they outgrow night lights. And one electric shock of a moment in the first act jolts comfort-food-fed Broadway audiences the way the shower scene in "Psycho" must have slapped moviegoers four decades ago.

Yet for all its darkness of plot and imagery, "The Pillowman" - which won the Olivier Award in London for best new play last year and arrives in New York in a shrewdly recast version - dazzles with a brightness now largely absent from Broadway. Mr. McDonagh's true subject is not gruesome crime and unjust punishment, although that's what a synopsis of the play, set largely in an interrogation room in an unnamed totalitarian state, might lead you to believe.

No, what "The Pillowman" is about, above all, is storytelling and the thrilling narrative potential of theater itself. Let's make one thing clear: Mr. McDonagh is not preaching the power of stories to redeem or cleanse or to find a core of solid truth hidden among life's illusions.

And he is certainly not exalting the teller of stories as a morally superior being. The play's protagonist, Katurian (Mr. Crudup, in a first-class performance), is a touchy, arrogant fellow, whose 400 short pieces of fiction (all but one unpublished) might be read, to borrow from the play, as a how-to guide of "101 ways to skewer a 5-year-old."

The stories' existence are what have landed Katurian and his mentally defective brother Michal (Michael Stuhlbarg) in prison, since the killings described in his simply told fables have been replicated in the town where they live. The team of policemen who interrogate Katurian - the sardonic Tupolski (Mr. Goldblum) and his explosive associate, Ariel (Zeljko Ivanek) - aren't entirely off base in their disdain for what their prisoner has written.

Artistic merit, however, is irrelevant here. So, for that matter, is fiction's significance as social commentary, autobiographical revelation or metaphysical map. As Katurian exclaims in exasperation, "I'm not trying to say anything at all."

For what "The Pillowman" is celebrating is the raw, vital human instinct to invent fantasies, to lie for the sport of it, to bait with red herrings, to play Scheherazade to an audience real or imagined. For Mr. McDonagh, that instinct is as primal and energizing as the appetites for sex and food. Life is short and brutal, but stories are fun. Plus, they have the chance of living forever.

Every character in "The Pillowman" is some kind of storyteller. The narrative styles range from Katurian's gruesome fairy tales (which, in successive coups de théâtre, assume wondrous storybook life before our eyes) to the deceptions practiced by the policemen; from the official, torture-punctuated interrogation that is the play's motor to Ariel's unexpected, maudlin fantasy of what his old age might be like.

These forms of fiction are infused with the same dynamic, wherein information is parceled out in teasing increments and the line between fact and falsehood keeps shifting. The relationship between narrator and listener has its sadomasochistic aspects. And on one level "The Pillowman" recalls what the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot said about his 1955 cinematic chiller, "Diabolique": "I sought only to amuse myself and the little child who sleeps in all our hearts - the child who hides her head under the bedcovers and begs, 'Daddy, Daddy, frighten me.' "

Under the carefully measured direction of Mr. Crowley - with brilliant production work by a team that includes, in addition to Mr. Pask, Brian MacDevitt (lighting), Paul Arditti (sound) and Paddy Cunneen (music) - the cast members act out different degrees of that relationship, as the characters tantalize one another in ways friendly, consoling, manipulative and vicious.

Mr. Goldblum and Mr. Ivanek turn the classic good cop/bad cop formula into a coruscating vaudeville routine. Mr. Goldblum's trademark deadpan wryness has rarely been put to better use, as his Tupolski toys with Katurian like a jaded latter-day version of the police inspector in Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Mr. Ivanek, in turn, comes up with delicious variations on the cliché of the combustible, torture-happy cop with a secret past. Their dialogue is appallingly funny, and endlessly quotable, but never out of sync with their characters.

The relationship between Katurian and his brother, the childlike Michal, is mostly rooted in a more amiable storytelling, as befits a fraternal relationship in which one sibling assumes the parental role. (What happened to Katurian's and Michal's Mom and Dad is, well, another story, and it is divulged in several versions.) Mr. Stuhlbarg boldly and expertly captures both the innocence and ugliness of Michal.

Mr. Crudup's finely chiseled features turn out to be ideal for registering the seductiveness, defensiveness and pure vanity of an artist for whom writing means even more than the brother he has protected for many years. Katurian's self-enchanted satisfaction when he tells a story is that of a young magician, pulling off a tricky sleight of hand. And Mr. Crudup makes it clear that the flame of anger burns brightest in Katurian when his stories are criticized or threatened with extinction.

An academic could make endless hay out of this play's narrative complexities and literary evocations (they notably include Kafka as well as Dostoyesvky), just as a sociologist or psychologist could go on about the sources and effects of fiction and its moral responsibility. You could even make a pretty thorough case for "The Pillowman" as an artistic apologia of sorts, directed at those who have dismissed Mr. McDonagh's previous works, set in a mayhem-prone rural Ireland, as pointlessly sensational and whimsical.

But to pursue these lines of thought is to fall into the very traps Mr. McDonagh has set to mock such analysis. Asked by Tupolski to explain symbols and subtext in one of his stories, Katurian answers, "It's a puzzle without a solution." Which is pretty much Mr. McDonagh's credo. But, oh, how he enjoys his puzzles. In this season's most exciting and original new play, he makes sure that we do, too.



SCRIPT

(THIS NEXT SECTION IS BOILER PLATE AND YOU PROBABLY WON'T FIND IT BY THIS WEEKEND. SKIP AHEAD) I strongly suggest reading the play. Try your local library, or:

Or you can buy the Dramatists Play Service Acting Edition:
Click here for the script.



Any questions that aren't answered here? Go to the TMI Page or e-mail me at Craig@bozolisand.com
© 2007 Craig Gustafson