Admittedly I initially cringed when seeing that Q-C Theatre Workshop was presenting Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman."
Not because of the twisted and chilling nature of the play, which could be described as everything from a black comedy to a mind-games thriller, but for the fact that it is the third time "Pillowman" has been produced in the Quad-Cities in less than a decade. My Verona Productions was one of the first in the country to stage it, in 2006, and The District Theatre followed in 2012.
Could there be any new way to tell this story?
Turns out there can.
Under Tyson Danner's direction and with a talent-rich ensemble, QCTW's "Pillowman" — where an author is questioned following murders inspired by his stories — succeeds in both gritty reality and gruesome fantasy.
The fantasy comes from the addition of a four-person ensemble — Sam Jones, Brooke Schelly, Laila Haley and Brody-Tucker Ford — acting out the stories that author Katurian (Thomas Alan Taylor) tells of his tormented childhood. These four move about the stage like macabre marionettes, matching Taylor's dialogue in effectively telling the stories.
It's preceded by gritty reality, as Taylor's Katurian is given a brutal and lengthy interrogation by a good cop (Mike Schulz)/bad cop (Cole McFarren) duo bent on torturing their witness until his confession.
Added to the mix is Katurian's mentally challenged brother (James Fairchild), who may have acted out on the tales.
Workshop veterans Taylor, Schulz and Fairchild deliver reliable, solid performances.
Taylor's characterization was a bit puzzling, since he played his Katurian as nearly Aspergerian in the first scene, but changed his speech patterns and behavior around his brother and in later scenes.
Schulz is both suave and smirking as the "good cop," carrying much of the humor with a delivery more accustomed to Aaron Sorkin's fast-paced dialogue. McFarren, a Prenzie Players veteran, adapts nicely and gives a range from blase to swagger to the short-fused cop.
Fairchild brings a wide-eyed wonder and fear to the role of Michal, complaining about an "itchy arse" and dreaming of the future. If Fairchild were ever cast as Lennie in "Of Mice and Men," I'm sure his affecting performance would be very similar.
Danner and his technical team — scenic designer Matthew Elliott, lighting designer Robert Poston and costume-makeup designer Ashlea Meyer — are each detail-oriented, and that's evident in the overall production. The metallic/stone look of the walls of the interrogation room have facing mirrors that introduce new sight angles. File folders containing the stories are marked with the tales' actual titles. An epilogue shows the exact effect of violence upon the character who's speaking.
While not for everyone — its dialogue, sometimes stomach-turning, is frequently full of f-bombs — QCTW's "Pillowman" is powerful and disturbing, but brilliantly presented.