The Pillowman

The Pillowman Presented by T. Schreiber Studio *

Now through November 24The_Pillowman_by_key_0

The great thing about theater is the freedom that it allows. Any company can pick and choose to produce works by new playwrights or established playwrights. Some companies do both, like the acclaimed T. Schreiber Studio, located at 151 West 26th St. In February of 2014, they are giving a nod to up and coming playwright Yasmine Beverly Rana with her Blood Sky and closing out the 2013 calendar year is Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, currently running through November 24.

This rendition of McDonagh’s tale of a fiction writer, whose stories resemble a streak of recent children’s murders, while living under a totalitarian regime is directed by Peter Jensen, Co-Artistic Director at the T. Schreiber Studio.

While familiar with McDonagh’s film work (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), I’ve never had the opportunity to see any of his plays performed. So, I went in as green as the landscape of McDonagh’s homeland, Ireland. The only thing I knew about The Pillowman was that it conjured up images of the Pillsbury Dough boy for me. No idea why.

The bitch about reviewing plays versus film is that maybe on the night you attend, the actors aren’t “all there”. Fortunately, this was not the case last Thursday night.

The lead role of Katurian Katurian Katurian is played by Josh Marcantel. For the uninitiated, that is not a typo, the character’s name is indeed Katurian Katurian Katurian because, as Katurian points out “My parents had a sense of humor.” An exceptionally demanding role, Marcantel commands attention and delivers a noteworthy performance. In a smaller venue, such as the theater at T. Schreiber, it would have been nice to see a less theatrical and more personal Katurian, but that in no way diminishes what Marcantel accomplishes with his Katurian. It is truly an epic role and pulling it off is itself an accomplishment, pulling it off so adeptly is amazing.

Don Carter, as lead investigator Tupolski, delivers an excellent performance. Tupolski is a play by the rules, no frills Detective and wants nothing more than to button up this whole child murder mess. Carter plays him with just the right mix of intelligence, snark and mirth. He handles McDonagh’s dark humor with a sense of understanding that, in the wrong hands, would have seemed false.

Tommy Buck, as Tupolski’s partner Ariel, delivers a performance worth the price of admission alone. Besides Katurian, Ariel is the most conflicted character. On the one hand, he’s a cop but, by his own admission, not as smart as Tupolski and perhaps a little overzealous with torture. On the other hand, Ariel is hiding a secret and a very special kind of hatred for people who hurt children. Initially, Bucks performance comes across as a little perfunctory, but by the third act you realize it was all a ruse. Buck’s performance is anything but perfunctory. He is able to wrestle and convey the complexity that is Ariel in a manner that lets the audience go along for his ride.

Rounding out the four principle actors is Alexei Bondar as Katurian’s slow witted older brother, Michal. Bondar delivers a pitch perfect performance and not one to be missed. Yea, it’s that good. Bondar captures Michal’s innocence and humor in a way that makes the acting disappear. No small accomplishment.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the stage chemistry between Josh Marcantel’s Katurian and Alexei Bondar’s Michal during Act II was missing for me.  And that is a shame because they both deliver such great performances but I felt no sense of kinship between them.

Rounding out the cast was Lance Olds, Victoria Guthrie and Aliya Victoriya who all deliver sound performances in a variety of roles.

Director Peter Jensen has gathered an amazing group of performers and delivered, for those fortunate enough to see it, an excellent interpretation. Corralling these actors and getting these performances from them is a testament to not only Jensen’s skill but also his intestinal fortitude.

Set Designer D. Schuyler Burks and Lighting Designer Yuki Nakase deliver a one two creative punch for such a limited space. Burks has made brilliant use of the space to give the play its needed visual scope and depth. The choice of such dank colors in the interrogation room help accentuate the bleak life under a totalitarian regime and Nakase’s sparse lighting heightens the inherent tension of the play. Both serve as prime examples of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s quote “In all things the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

This play has been produced all over the world which is an indication of its quality and universal message. It is a bold company that chooses to put their on stamp on a play with this much history, and T. Schreiber Studio has shown their ballsiness here with their rock solid rendition of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.

Go see it.

Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm
Matinee’s Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm

T. Schreiber Studio
151 West 26th St.
7th Floor

* – In full disclosure, I was provided a complimentary ticket for this performance.