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The Pillowman | Off-Ramp

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It was, admittedly, off-putting to find yourself laughing amid the shocking subject matter. 




By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Steven Woolf
Through October 8, 2006

Last year, the New York Times couldn't get enough of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman at the Booth Theatre on Broadway. The fact that the lead role of Katurian was played by Billy Crudup was of some interest, of course; even more noteworthy, though, was this play that blended social satire, laugh-out-loud humor, and graphic violence against children—often in the same sentence.

I was expecting The Pillowman to be a tough watch; it wasn't. It was, admittedly, off-putting to find yourself laughing amid the shocking subject matter, all the while trying to interpret the motives: of the playwright, the play, and the characters therein. The Pillowman makes you think, and will definitely have you talking.

Save for a couple of fairytale-like interludes, all of the action in the play occurs in one of two prison cells. Writer Katurian (Joseph Collins) has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of three children. His short stories—over 400 in all—more often than not involve the abuse or killing of children; his "theme," as Detective Tupolski (Anderson Matthews) calls it. The police get suspicious when the real-life killings mimic Katurian's tales and bring him-and his stories-in for questioning.

In the next cell is Katurian's developmentally disabled older brother, Michal (Timothy McCracken), brought in as a means of making his brother crack. When the confession comes, though, is not what the police expected.


Katurian is less concerned with his own survival as that of his stories'; he wants to live on through his words. He can recite many of the stories by heart—and does, both to the police and directly to the audience, as the events are exaggeratedly acted out behind him. The stories are simply written, straightforwardly told, and gruesomely depicted. They're twisted fairytales, perhaps, or morality tales. Like I said, they make you think.

In his role as the lead, Collins was mostly convincing but not a natural. There was something forced in his portrayal, even beyond the likeable/unlikeable nature of his character. Both McCracken as the mentally challenged brother and Matthews as the lead detective gave believable, commendable performances (despite the latter's flubbing of a couple of lines in the second act this particular performance). And Paul DeBoy's turn as policeman Ariel was also strong as he moved from the bad cop who roughed up his prisoners to a man trying to outrun an abusive childhood.

The set was sparse yet easily interchangeable for the fairytale scenes; Steven Woolf's direction was seamless. "The first duty of a storyteller," declared Katurian early in the first act, "is to tell a story." The conclusions, then, are ours to draw, and ours alone.


The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Off-Ramp series presents The Pillowman through October 8 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $18-45. For a complete listing of performance times and to purchase tickets, please visit, or call the box office at 314-968-4925 to purchase tickets by phone.

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