The Pillowman

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: Martin McDonagh
    Directed by: John Crowley
    Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Tupolski), Billy Crudup (Katurian), Zeljko Ivanek (Ariel), Michael Stuhlbarg (Michal), Ted Koch (Father), Virginia Louise Smith (Mother), Jesse Shane Bronstein (Boy) and Madeleine Martin (Girl).
    Synopsis: A writer in a totalitarian state is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of child-murders that are happening in his town.


    Polly Wittenberg's Review.

    Once upon a time there was a show so revolting and yet so human and so funny that a portion of the audience felt compelled to leave at intermission while the rest stayed totally rapt in the events and tales illustrated before them. Once upon a time is now at the Booth Theater where Martin McDonagh�s The Pillowman, last year�s Olivier Award-winning production from London�s National Theatre but recast with American actors, has just opened.

    If you like your entertainment frothy or if you are put off by �bad� language, violence or dark subjects like child abuse, police brutality, and serial murder, you�d be better off finding another show down the block. But if you enjoy stories or fine acting or just want to spend a couple of hours on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what�s going on in a demented world, this is a play to see.

    As directed to create and sustain great suspense by John Crowley on a relatively stark but surprising set by Scott Pask, the play has four main speaking parts. All are juicy roles full of contradictions and humor and all are beautifully played. They include a writer and murder suspect named Katurian K. Katurian (Billy Crudup) who is being detained and tortured in a police station in some unnamed totalitarian dictatorship. His �good cop-bad cop� interrogators�Tupolski (the unrecognizably conservative-looking Jeff Goldblum) and Ariel (the bald and volatile Zeljko Ivanek)�are like Law & Order�s Briscoe and Logan on speed. Michael Stulbarg, as Katurian�s retarded brother Michal, is a man with both the sweetness of an abuse victim overeager to please and the pathology of a child killer.

    Using flashbacks and other cinematic techniques now familiar even in television, McDonagh helps the audience enter the world of the imagination which brought Katurian to this awful place and to the awful deeds which he has perpetrated and which he writes about. Woven together in a rich tapestry with these revelations is news about the inner lives and motivations of his pathetic brother and of each of the detectives as well. To which is added, considering the gruesome material, a relatively happy ending.

    In a bygone era, great drama on the stage could consist of a little yelling or perhaps a slap in the face. We�ve now become so inured to this sort of thing that it takes the kind of chilling subject matter, masterfully manipulated by McDonagh here, to put us through the emotional wringer which this great evening in the theatre surely does.

    Polly Wittenberg


    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Yet for all its darkness of plot and imagery, 'The Pillowman' dazzles with a brightness now largely absent from Broadway.�
    CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says "This may not be a play for either the faint-hearted or the unthoughtful, but with it McDonagh, previously much admired for his black Irish comedies ("The Beauty Queen of Leenane," among them) stakes his claim to being the best English-speaking playwright of his generation."
    ROBERT DOMINGUEZ of New York Daily News says "In a work with such dark and stomach-churning themes, comic relief is essential, and "The Pillowman" mercifully doesn't lack for laughs."
    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY "Those who skip it will miss the best play of the season � a season that has included stellar efforts from the likes of August Wilson, John Patrick Shanley and Michael Frayn"
    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "Chilling and strangely enchanting."
    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "The show provides plenty of sick thrills and scary chills calculated to keep viewers in delicious fear of what might happen next."
    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of Associated Press says "Unfolds with a macabre intensity seldom felt in the theater. For sheer theatrical terror � not to mention the blackest of humor, it would be hard to top McDonagh's disturbing play."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers:
    New York Times
    New York Post
    New York Daily News
    USA Today
    Newsday
    Star-Ledger
    Associated Press