REVIEW: Redtwist Theatre’s “The Pillowman”

Unrelenting yet still insufficient

 Interr2

We like to execute writers . . . It sends a message . . . I don’t know what message it sends. I don’t know where it sends a message—that’s not my department—but it sends a message.”       –Detective Tupolski

 

Redtwist Theatre presents:

The Pillowman

by Martin McDonagh
directed by Kimberly Senior
thru December 27th (ticket info)

Review by Paige Listerud

A local playwright once told me that productions of Samuel Beckett’s plays in Ireland are different from American ones–they are actually very funny. “What you have to remember about Waiting for Godot,” she told me, “is that it’s all pub talk.” Mad Irish humor shuffles side by side with bleak existentialism.

Sons Somewhere in the middle of Martin McDonagh’s bleak, sadistic writing is the fun and play of talk–storytelling for the pure hell of it. Even if the story is supposed to shock, laughter comes somewhere before or after the gasp. Actors in Chekhov’s plays have to balance between making the audience laugh or cry. Here actors have to balance on the razor’s edge between laughter and horror. Suspended in the tension of the moment, audiences must be caught between the discomfort they feel over the violence before them and their own sadistic, humorous reaction to it.

As guest director for Redtwist Theatre’s production of The Pillowman, Kimberly Senior has successfully crafted an exhibition of unrelenting tension and suspense. Nothing disrupts the dense, claustrophobic atmosphere of the interrogation room that police officers Tupolski (Tom Hickey) and Ariel (Johnny Garcia) have dragged Katurian (Andrew Jessop) into to account for his life’s work as a writer. A few children have been murdered according to methods described in his macabre and unpublished stories. Protesting his innocence, the author gradually discovers just how he is implicated in those crimes.

A writer’s murder fiction becomes reality. How many times have we seen that device? But The Pillowman springboards from worn-out premise into reason-defying psychological depths. The audience is plunged into the black pool of connections between horror and childhood. According to psychologists, the very state of being shocked or horrified recreates in the victim a childlike state of frozen powerlessness, passivity, and surrealism. McDonagh’s work draws no distinction between that paralyzed, surreal consciousness and the world of childlike creativity and play. In The Pillowman, both are inextricably enmeshed. Horror gives birth to, or deeply informs, creativity and even when creativity seems to transform or redeem the impact of horror, it is, in fact, planting the seeds for more.

Happy JesusFam

Redtwist’s production achieves the suspension of time required to create deep horror. In deep horror, there is no future–only an oppressive present that never improves. Nothing describes The Pillowman’s totalitarian state better than a nameless land, much like the land in many fairy tales, of uninterrupted horror, whose residents are kept in childlike submission. Even the agents of the state, like the good cop-bad cop team of Tupolski and Ariel, reveal their childlike natures through the stories they tell about themselves. Here the production shows its greatest strength. Hickey captures all the nuances of a cop who playfully revels in the arbitrary, meaningless nature of state sanctioned sadism, and then revises in front of Katurian a story about himself, in which he goes from heartless mastermind to ingenious savior. As unwavering bad cop, Garcia gives earnest pathos to a man who yearningly hopes his perpetual brutality will reap the love and adoration of children in old age.

ArielKat The relationship between Katurian and his mentally challenged brother, Michal (Peter Oyloe), does not continue that wicked thread. We learn the authorities have dragged in Michal in order to force a confession. Even if Katurian suffers shock from police brutality and the revelation of real child murders, Jessop’s performance is still a little too somnambulant to realize any core of brotherly connection. For my money—and this is a matter of personal taste—I prefer a realist performance of a mentally handicapped person to a performance that simply alludes to it. At least readers can be aware of my bias. In any case, the scene between Katurian and Michal lacks the emotional range to raise the stakes.

Above all, the cast must go further to pull out all the dark humor that inhabits this play, dancing on that razor’s edge between laughs that undermine and laughs that reinforce its sadism. To this end, the side theaters that depict Katurian’s stories are quite impressive. Special attention should be given Marissa Meo’s depiction of the little girl who believes she is Jesus and willingly goes to violent limits to fulfill that belief. Her performance reflects the essence of play, something this production could use a little more of.

Rating: ★★★

PM-Brothers

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Review: Redtwist Theatre’s “Lettice and Lovage”

The Joy of Eccentricity

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte)

Redtwist Theatre presents:

Lettice and Lovage

 

by Peter Shaffer
directed by Steve Scott
thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte) The Redtwist Theatre production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage is nothing but pure comic delight. Director Steve Scott keeps it simple and allows the talents of Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jan Ellen Graves (Lotte) to take flight. Starting out as opponents, Lettice and Lotte solidify their friendship over shared confessions of their philosophies and tastes. Hurley and Graves ground their characters in the fullness of flesh and blood, accenting their foils’ eccentricities without a hint of condescension. The result is a comedy whipped up to deceptively light and careless fun. Sterling and well-balanced performances by Jim Morley (Bardolph) and Maura Kidwell (Miss Framer) set the production like a little diamond in silver.

Charlotte “Lotte” Schoen, manager of tours conducted through Fustian House in Wiltshire, England, must sack Lettice Douffet for deviating from the official tour script. But Lettice, who believes her duty is “to enlarge, to enliven, to enlighten” her tourist audience, finds Fustian House “haunted by the ghost of Nothing Ever Happened” and since “fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum,” feels free to embellish on family estate history. Though Lotte cannot allow Lettice to have free reign with the facts, she is drawn nevertheless into Lettice’s world and reveals passions one would never have thought possible in her staid, practical nature.

L-and-L4 L-and-L5

The light, quick precision of Hurley and Graves’ performances allows Shaffer’s comedy to be what it was intended: a little rebellion against the grayness of the modern world that champions the imagination against resigned acceptance to what is. Lettice and Lotte may indeed act like schoolgirls, but their childlike play sets the soul free from crushing convention. In laughing with, as well as at, their shenanigans the audience becomes their co-conspirators.

“Without danger, there is no theater,” says Lettice, a woman whose whole life confronts head on the fear of appearing ridiculous. But what is that compared with submitting to the absurdity of promoting an inedible cheese product at a supermarket for her living? Beneath Lettice’s brave eccentricities lies the incapacity to accept the gross absurdities of capitalist civilization; just as beneath Lotte’s practicality lies a radical revulsion against modern ugliness. Their blossoming friendship gives them the freedom to be themselves with each other and, who knows, perhaps create an alternative future. For a couple of hours, we get to steep in the light of their growing bond with each other and enjoy the freedom of their bloodless revolution.

Rating: ««««

Millicent Hurley (Lettice) and Jim Morley (Bardolph)

Production Personnel

 

Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Director: Steve Scott
Stage Manager: Shauna Warren
Scenic Design: Jack Magaw
Light Design: Christopher Burpee
Sound Design: Christopher Kriz
Costume Design: Erin Fast
Cast: Jan Ellen Graves
Millicent Hurley
Maura Kidwell
Tom Lally
Jim Morley

Megon McDonough and “The Mistress Cycles” at the Auditorium Theatre stage

This Saturday – On Stage with Megon McDonough

 

On stage with…Megon McDonough

Dates: Saturday, July 18, 2009
Times: 8:00 p.m.
Price: $50; $75

Step ONTO our stage, take a seat at a table, order a drink and enjoy the show. Our summer series treats the audience to an unforgettable performance while enjoying a rare vantage point typically reserved for the performer – the stage.

"Megon is truly one of the most gifted and authentic of performers." – Bill Campbell, ABC7

Best known for her work as one of the inaugural members of the Four Bitchin’ Babes, singer, songwriter and entertainer Megon McDonough will perform signature songs of platinum divas who sang from stage, screen, music halls and clubs right into the hearts of audiences around the country. Her debut Auditorium performance will include songs by the ladies of the British Invasion – Petula Clark, Lulu and Dusty Springfield, along with American counterparts Judy Collins, Janis Ian and Janis Joplin.

THREE EASY WAYS TO PURCHASE TICKETS:
Online:
TicketMaster.com
Phone: 312.922.2110 ext. 300
In person: Auditorium Box Office, 50 E. Congress Parkway (open Monday-Friday noon-6pm)

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Coming up next on the Auditorium Theatre Stage:

 

mistress-cycleThe Mistress Cycle

Dates: July 22 – August 8
Times: various, see below
Price: $49

 

The Auditorium presents Apple Tree Theatre‘s production of Jenny Giering and Beth Blatt’s The Mistress Cycle

For this event, the Auditorium stage is transformed into an intimate black box theatre-in-a-theatre, seating 200. 

The Mistress Cycle breaks the mold of the traditional book musical, instead offering audiences a “song cycle” that illuminates stories of passion, sacrifice and strength of spirit. The Mistress Cycle explores the lives and loves of five notorious mistresses: Tess Walker, a contemporary Manhattan photographer; Anais Nin, the famed sexual adventurer of the early 20th century; Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II of 16th century France; Lulu White, a turn-of-the-century New Orleans bordello Madame; and Ching, a 14-year-old concubine in 12th century China.

Directed by Kurt Johns
Musical Direction by Diana Lawrence

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