Reb Beau Allen as Ariel, left, Troy M. Apostol as the innocent Michal, Gilbert Molina as the writer Katurian and Christopher Cappelletti as Tupolski tell the dark tale of "The Pillowman," presented by the Lizard Loft through Saturday at the ARTS at Marks Garage.
Walking the dark side of life
Is a person who writes stories about imaginary acts of violence predisposed to commit them in real life? Or, could such stories inspire others to do so? Playwright Martin McDonagh addresses that line of reasoning with "The Pillowman," and director Alvin Chan's talented cast brings the story to life in stark and memorable style.
Presented by the Lizard Loft:
Place: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Time: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Tickets: $12; $10 students
Call: 550-8457 or visit honoluluboxoffice.com
Katurian, a struggling writer whose work consists almost entirely of stories about abused or neglected children, is arrested and charged with murder after two children in his neighborhood are murdered and a third goes missing. Katurian's interrogators are ready to do whatever it takes to extract a confession and then execute him.
Katurian's stories are not for the squeamish. In one, an outcast boy in a medieval German town shares his meager food with a mysterious stranger. The stranger repays the boy by slicing off his toes and then leaving with the cryptic comment, "You'll thank me for this some day." As the story ends we learn that the town is Hamlin, and realize that the newly crippled boy may have been saved from the fate that awaits all the other children of the town at the hands of the Pied Piper.
Other stories are even darker. The titular Pillowman is a supernatural character who helps miserable people escape their wretched lives by returning them to their childhoods and then helping them commit suicide under circumstances that appear accidental.
Katurian has been arrested for killings that match the scenarios of two of his stories. That's good enough for the police, but just to force a confession sooner rather than later, they're ready to torture his retarded brother, Michal.
Be warned that Act I runs almost an hour and 40 minutes, and the story seems complete at intermission. But Act II adds tremendously to the arc of the story and our comprehension of the themes.
Gilbert Molina (Katurian), Reb Beau Allen (Ariel) and Christopher Cappelletti (Tupolski) are perfectly cast in the lead roles of the hapless writer and his tormentors. Molina evokes memories of the innocent victims of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s with his portrayal of an apparently doomed victim of a totalitarian state; if his protestations of innocence won't save him, will a false confession redeem his brother and ensure the survival of his life's work?
Allen and Cappelletti personify the mind-set of totalitarianism regardless of ideology. They also provide most of the play's best moments of dark comedy as a pair of ill-matched investigators whose dislike of each other turns the case into a personal struggle for power and advancement.
Troy M. Apostol (Michal) is brilliant as the retarded but clever brother.
Act I opens as a dark game of cat-and-mouse between Katurian and his interrogators and continues when he is allowed to see Michal. Katurian's conversation with his brother reveals the key to several pieces of the puzzle. Act II, shorter and faster in tempo, adds a wealth of essential information and character development in bringing the story to its conclusion.
The other members of the cast step forward in important parts in dream scenes that explore the reasons Katurian writes such dark and twisted stories. Meanwhile, the investigation continues into the fate of the missing girl.
Good direction, powerful performances and thought-provoking themes make "The Pillowman" must-see theater for those able to handle the language and subject matter.