Friday, September 28, 2012

The Pillowman: An NRT Production

Forum 111, Friday and Saturday 8pm. Completely Free.

Pleasure from extraordinarily gratuitous violence: I don't like it in my theatre.

That being said, "The Pillowman" facinates me as a play. My intro to it was excerpts performed by a troupe in one of my reading theatre courses. It was played in a classroom with a lot of restraint. It was facinating.

Last night I attended the No Refund Theatre production. This group consistently impresses me with their student productions pulled off in less than ideal situations: scattered practice locations, transitory classroom spaces, "hell weeks" before 3-4 showings on a weekend.

I had never read the full play before but had remembered most of the pieces.

So I'm torn in my review of this play. There were several moments of brilliance. Jim Dickey (who, oddly enough, played Katurian in the class I was in) did an amazing job of the restrained, oddly unfeeling and human Katurian. I can't imagine anyone else in the role, to be honest.

But the production seemed to range from the gratuitously creepy and overdramatic to the restrained horror. I prefer the latter. The best moments of horror came in the most human moments like between Katurian and his brother (played by John Reddy). The moments that felt unnaturally gratuitous were the demonstration of the stories, often behind a black scrim. The scrim prevented most of the stories from being seen and sometimes distracted from the calm, engagingly narration that Katurian offerred. The sequence of "The Little Jesus" was forced and almost awkwardly horrific. The Pillow Man was terrifyingly painted rather than the sympathetic, huggable Michelin Man I imagine in my head.

Audience dynamics could have affected that. There was tense laughter through much of the production, increased by long scene changes and technical difficulties where we were neither audience nor crew. There was laughter at some good moments but when the play tried to become in-your-face about the horror, the only affect was restrained, tense giggles. Which I'm not sure they were going for.

It is also totally in keeping with the play's content to demonstrate our sick facination with stories like the ones Katurian writes and are shared in the play's plot. So perhaps my tension for the huge range from restraint to over the top horror/surrealism makes sense. Max Simone, the director, does have a tendency toward horror as he has demonstrated in past performances such as Iago in "Othello" (a stellar presentation!) and in his performance in "MacBeth" (also an eerie/horror laced production) last spring.

But the shout outs have to go to Jim Dickey at Katurian. He never looses a nearly detached, normalcy to his role, even in when he looses his temper with his brother. John Reddy plays an adorable and affecting Michal, one that I never really grew upset with but really wanted to run and hug at several moments. Tupolski (played by Bryan Keith) was also phenomenal. I've seen Bryan play several more slapstick roles with NRT before but he did a beautiful job portraying the humanity and the brutality essential to this manipulative character.

The tension for me in watching this play performed by Penn State students also comes in it being largely about an extraordinary, long term cases of child abuse. It's poignancy to the events in recent State College and Penn State history was unsettling to say the least. Which made the moments of bloody sheets and laughing parents behind black scrims unneccessary and seemingly disrespectful. But I've never really had a taste for the surreal so I'm willing to be argued with.

PS. Major shout out to all my classmates from the English Department. Luke Miller, Max Simone, and Jim Dickey are all former classmates of mine. Hurrah for English!


Luke said...

Hey, I didn't know you were at the show last night! I wish I'd seen you. Just thought I'd mention Max was MacDuff (McDuff? McDuck?) in Macbeth, and not the director. And I agree entirely with a couple of your thoughts. Bryan's performance was wonderful to see, and the scrims took away from the rest of the show (namely Jim's narration) for me as well. Thanks for the shout-out!

John said...

Thanks for your kind words! -John Reddy

Dana Ray said...

Thanks for the correction, Luke! I will change that.