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Gruesome, Violent "The Pillowman" to Open at Falcon Theatre

In an interrogation room in an unnamed totalitarian state, a writer is being questioned by two detectives.

Why do his stories feature gruesome plots about child murder and torture, they want to know, and why do they seem to mirror a string of recent child murders in the area?

And if you think you know what happens next – you’re wrong.

The Pillowman was a 2003 Broadway hit by Irish master of the comic macabre Martin McDonagh.

If the name sounds familiar, McDonagh is the writer/director of the brutally funny Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which has been piling up buzz nominations since the 2018 awards season began.

Pillowman reteams Falcon and McDonagh with director Ed Cohen, who helmed The Beauty Queen of Leenane two years ago. The production features Rory Sheridan as the writer, Katurian, Michael A. Monks, Joe Hornbaker, and Nathan Tubbs.

The Falcon production will be small and intimate, fitting the theater’s space. No matter what the stage size, “McDonagh’s work generates audience reaction,” Cohen observes.

Definitely an understatement. Described as a “a thrills-and-chills examination of the storyteller’s art,” the action proceeds with creepy narrations and reenactments of several of Katurian's unsettling, even startling, stories, Pillowman subtly considers the power, nature, and purpose of art as it asks, ‘can fictions inspire atrocities?’

Cohen notes there are a lot of “open-ended questions” in the play, not least of them a big one about freedom of speech. “Do we have to tolerate the worst so there can be true freedom?”

Cohen offers another, which could as easily be asked about a lot of TV programming today, including The Handmaid’s Tale: “Is it better to live your life in horror, or escape it all?”

Like so much of McDonagh’s work, Pillowman and its graphic violence (the show comes with a warning) keeps its audience lurching between horror and laughter. “He leads an audience down a path then completely pulls the rug out from under them He’s really good at it.”

And despite McDonagh’s extravagantly grotesque trimmings, Cohen insists, “He writes realism. He puts material on the stage honestly and lets people react to it.”

Cohen sees Pillowman as being about child abuse and how many different forms it takes, with a lesson straight from Grimm fairy tales and headlines. “You can’t trust adults.”

He sees part of his job as “asking rhetorical questions – why, why, why?”

Ideally audience members will be trying to answer some of Pillowman’s questions as they leave the show.

The Pillowman, Jan. 26-Feb. 10. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets 23.76 adults (including fees), 16.52 students (including fees). $5 discount on Thursdays. 513-479-6783 and here. 

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo provided