Theatre in the Park’s “The Pillowman” wastes no time diving into its incredibly tense first act. Viewers are introduced to Katurian (Ira David Wood IV), a largely unsuccessful writer of dark short stories, most of which feature brutal child killings. He finds himself being interrogated by two violent cops, the unstable but strangely kindhearted Ariel (Michael Brocki) and no-nonsense Tupolski (Tony Pender), both of whom believe Katurian is responsible for a slew of real-life child murders. As the act continues, viewers learn that Katurian’s mentally handicapped brother Michal, unsettlingly but beautifully portrayed by Samuel Whisnant, sits in the next room, presumably undergoing the same strong-arming.
While the first act is filled with violence and disturbing imagery, these take a backseat to the incredible suspense that slowly builds throughout. The second act goes easier on the audience, with Whisnant’s character offering a bit of comic relief. The relief is short-lived, however, as the story suddenly takes an even darker turn. Saying much more would spoil the frustrating, exciting, and all-around wonderful experience of watching “The Pillowman” unfold on stage, but rest assured that any viewer who can appreciate being taken out of his or her comfort zone will absolutely love every moment of it.
Watching “The Pillowman” is like reading a slew of dark fairytales and, while many brilliant themes are touched upon, the show is ultimately, as one of Katurian’s stories is described, “ a puzzle with no answer.” That shouldn’t, however, stop most viewers from talking for hours post-show about the meanings behind Katurian’s stories and about the meanings behind the show itself.
Ira David Wood III’s direction takes bold risks in the name of good storytelling, and the acting here is stellar all-around. “The Pillowman” is guaranteed to grab you and not let go until the climactic ending. Major kudos are certainly owed to Theatre in the Park for producing something so different, so daring, and so deliciously dark.