The Pillowman is hard to watch. But it's not the result of the acting, which is spot-on and emotionally charged. And it's not because of the Little Stage Theater, whose squeaky seats stacked on plywood risers don't make for the most comfortable theater experience. Rather, it's the content of the story that leaves your stomach in knots as you wonder how these warped-minded members of the audience can continue laughing at bigoted puns and cheap jokes about horrific acts of violence against children.
As the play opens, protagonist Katurian (Curtis Belz), a writer whose short stories resemble the sadistic murders commited against three children, is being interrogated by detectives Ariel and Tupolski. Actor Sheaun McKinney's Tupolski is the good cop, contrasting well with the unempathetic, agressive Ariel, played transfixingly by Bechir Sylvain. Belz's Katurian, however, is the highlight of the show, as he delivers a performance that makes you wonder whether you should be sympathizing with this twisted writer or rooting for his demise.
In the second act, we are introduced to Katurian's mentally handicapped brother, Michal, who is being held by police in the cell next door. When Katurian and Michal, played convincingly by director Arnaldo Carmouze, are thrown into the same cell, Katurian's brotherly instincts take over and he protects Michal from the kind of torture to which he's just been subjected. Soon, all hell breaks loose and the story devolves from an intriguing murder mystery into a seemingly unending litany of grotesque short stories, biographies, and confessions that fail to bring redemption to any of the characters. We are led to believe that whoever is responsible for murdering these childern doesn't understand the evil he's committed.
So, what we seek and do not find, by the final third act, is some kind of moral direction that puts the sins of The Pillowman into perspective and brings purpose to the last two hours of our lives. For those of us who weren't entertained by the slaughtering of innocence, we were left desensitized, proceeding silently toward the exits.
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