Renegade Tops Itself Revisiting Dark Pillowman
Paul Brissett, Duluth News Tribune
September 20, 2013
“A terrible magnificence” is an inadequate term for Renegade Theater Company’s production of The Pillowman, which opened Thursday at Teatro Zuccone. But any more laudatory and descriptive term is, at this writing, beyond reach.
Martin McDonagh’s brilliant script is beautifully brought to life by four outstanding actors under the direction of Director Anika Thompson.
McDonagh’s plot is of a writer being interrogated because his stories bear a disturbing resemblance to a series of murders. The stories, several of which are recited aloud during the play, are as horrifically hypnotizing as McDonagh’s plot is engrossing.
McDonagh offers us puzzles, then solutions—which turn out to be more puzzles. It’s layers upon layers, added, then peeled away, only to have more added.
Even a dreadfully contrived climax doesn’t negate the overall power of his writing.
The play is salted with humor, but most of it evokes smiles more than outright laughs. And the genuine giggles — all too profane for print — leap out from some of the play’s darkest scenes.
Luke Moravec, who plays the writer, Katurian, is better known for some of his comic roles locally. But in Pillowman he exhibits a superb dramatic range, from the confused, panicked suspect to the enraged protector of his brain-damaged brother to the passionate artist, willing to die if it will allow his work to live on.
Robert Lee handles the role of Michael, the brother, with the utmost deftness of manner, posture, gesture and expression.
Andy Bennett and Evan Kelly as the cops, Tupolski and Ariel, could probably extract a confession from a real criminal. Bennett gives Tupolski a no-nonsense but sardonic style but also emanates a subtle but undeniable threat. His character draws most of the laughs, all at the expense of Katurian’s dread.
Kelly plays bad cop to Bennett’s good cop, putting his enormous physical stage presence to maximum use. Ariel’s continual threat, and occasional application, of violence make his turnabout late in the play all the more dramatic.
Renegade staged The Pillowman five years ago, with Bennett and Kelly but two other actors as Katurian and Michael. It was an awesome production that almost no one went to see.
As effective and praiseworthy as that earlier production was, however, the current one is deeper, broader and more richly textured — a clear indication of how far Renegade has come in the past five years.
September 21, 2013
Lights were off, blood was smeared, a man was trembling. Somewhere in the distance screams were being let lose and cackles right beside.
Teatro Zuccone has an intimate atmosphere, bringing the show and the audience together as one. This was an advantage for The Pillowman. By everyone being close, energy was passed around in an instance, filling bodies with feelings like knives.
The Pillowman was a Gemini of pieces. The production had an overall intensity with the lingering of comedy. The powerful lines may take one by surprise at first but then are bandaged with a laugh. It's not easy finding a balance between such extremities but McDonaugh achieved such.
Though the script was strong, the thought provoking story couldn't have been sent without the actors. Each had a strong stage presence and really was able to embrace their character. From the strength heard in their voices to the trembles that seemed real. Even the mannerisms of each person stuck out after we caught on to who they "were".
Ariel had a strong presence as the tough cop but his soft side dripped out his pores. Michal was explained slower than he appeared yet more insane. Tupolski played the nice cop, keyword, played. With each character having two sides to them, it was refreshing to see them played out.
Katurian Katurian Katurian was on stage as people progressed in, setting a tone to the already started story. In between the interrogation was a glimpse into the past. The break created was smooth and only made the play stronger. With each scene set, foreshadowing occurred like a puzzle, each act a piece.
Emotions and personal stories were a big part of the production. Where Katurian was being pressed by the police about murders the same as his written stories, their stories came out too. Background stories tying the story together like a stitch to our wounds.
The play left the audience with brains triggered in ways they haven't been for a while. Each line was a stab to a truth. "Is it normal for every boy my age to hear such abominable noises every night?"
The Pillowman was a night for the books. If a show leaves one needing a drink, it must have done something right. With the drink comes conversation provoked by a script so heavy. A mind still scrambling the parts that were once fit snug in act one.
The Renegade Theater Company’s five year anniversary production of The Pillowman , was as executive producer Katy Helbacka described, “Bold, creative, imaginative, cutting-edge, and -above all- entertaining”. Martin McDonagh’s script examined the reality of a writer’s darkest nightmares coming to life and it illustrated the concept of taking storytelling too far.
Five years ago they changed their name from the Renegade Comedy Theatre. This time, The Renegade Theater Company’s production of The Pillowman was an appropriate representation of their newly evolved name, attitude, artistic vision, and types of shows they produce.
Although McDonagh’s script posed some hard-hitting questions, the small cast of four tackled them with full effort. Luke Moravec, who played writer Katurian Katurian Katurian, largely demonstrated the complex derangement of the play. In one way, the character Katurian was established as a loving caretaker to his mentally-challenged brother, but he was also a passionate writer who seemed to only care about the survival of his ghastly stories. The brother, Michal, who was played by Robert Lee, seemed to embody pure oblivion at first, but as the layers of the story unraveled, we began to see the story’s convoluted truth.
Not only was Michal and Katurian’s sinister past revealed through the innovative manner of shadow puppetry, but also the unpleasant childhood of “bad cop” Ariel, played by Evan Kelly, was revealed by “good cop” Tupolski. This approach caused it to seem as though every aspect of the characters’ lives were meant to be wretched.
Although the play is extremely dark, McDonagh provides a feasible amount of apparent comedy, which seems to parallel his personality off-stage as his bio in the playbill states he “has a participation trophy from his sixth grade spelling bee, so suck it”. Andy Bennett used this sense of humor in a thriving manner for his role Tupolski, for the reason that he was the least violent of the characters.
The Renegade’s black box theatre created a very unique and intimate atmosphere for the audience of The Pillowman . The simplicity of the set and costumes let the story shine through and stab the audience in the heart. Flashbacks of Katurian’s childhood was displayed by the uncommon technique of shadow puppetry, designed by Anika Thompson, accompanied by spotlighting designed by Michael Cochrane.
This small but immensely talented cast and crew displayed a brilliantly complicated tale that left the audience sympathizing and speechless. It left with an echo: “once upon a time, there was a man all made up of fluffy pink pillows…”
The dark comedy play "The Pillowman" seemed to give off a variety of emotions towards the audience. The audience roared with laughter when Ariel (the bad cop) talked to Katurian about little children giving him treats for all the good that he has done for them even though he does't like treats. The audience also seemed to laugh when Tupolski (the good cop) asked Katurian for his full name which ended up being Katurian Katurian Katurian… his parents were quite funny people. There was a shock amongst the audience when we all found out the Michael actually did do the killings of the three children in a very brutal way that Katurian created in his stories.
The Pillowman was a very humorous comedy which had some truth in it among our society. Michael was abused by his parents and Katurian just heard it behind the door. This can easily happen amongst other families without other people in the community knowing about it. People in the psych units may have experiences this kind of abuse and that may be why they are that way. There is also a flaw in our laws which also occurred in "The Pillowman". Katurian was the brains of the killings and Michael did the actions. Michael was being a copy cat of the story and he found out that is was successful. In our court today there are probably people who are convicted for having the brains while someone did the actions and in reality they are probably innocent.
Tragedies happened throughout the show and one that occurred was when Katurian killed his brother Michael and the other one was when Katurian got shot by Tupolski. When these two events occurred the only sounds amongst the audience was silence, "aw" or "wow". While walking out of the play, every audience member seemed to like the play and everyone seemed to have something good to say about it. It was a very sad play, which is a reminder of what reality is amongst some people in the world.
It is amazing how a play can affect an audience and the director did exactly what was intended for the play "The Pillowman". Emotions were exploding everywhere and he expanded the idea of what a criminal is and how our political system is set up. "The Pillowman" was like watching a movie and everything was very surreal. It brought a younger audience whom seemed to understand the dark jokes and brought youth to the actors and stage.
This play should be on the top charts on must see plays in the Duluth area. It was entertaining, dramatic, comical, action filled and not one person walked out in disappointment. That is what you call a good show, a show that can make everyone satisfied because it is very tough to make everyone happen with what they watch. Out of 5 starts, this show would receive an 4.5 and that is because not every show is perfect. But this show is pretty close.
The Renegade theatre's shadowy performance of The Pillowman, captivated the attention of many. While supposedly portraying a comedic tone, many audience members viewed it as a performance that couldn't quite find the balance between humor and horror. Struggling to find an equilibrium between the two emotions, made it what many felt to be, uncomfortable.
Despite the irregularity, the acting made the screenplay come alive about as well as it could have. The four captivating actors, definitely made their presence known. Despite the limitation of characters, they proved that less really is more. As far as the audience was concerned, there really didn’t need to be additional cast.
Luke Moravee, who played the main character, Katurian, kept the show rolling at whatever costs. His deep emotions employed the whole audience into the scene. However, numerous people felt Moravee should have kept the scenes more tragic and less comedic. This character is literally blown away in the end by the two police officers. The blank gunshot echoed throughout the space, ringing the ears of many.
Andy Bennett, the “good” law enforcement detective, delivered outstanding dialogue. One could tell this wasn’t his first performance. The jokes revealed in this performance were delivered best by Bennett. The loudest laughs by far were unleashed during the scenes in which he was present.
Michal, played by Robert Lee, also protruded as an amazingly well portrayed character. Michal, the main character’s mentally unstable sibling, is acted extremely well. If one didn’t know prior, anybody would think he was actually mentally incapable. This act is perhaps comparable to Dustin Hoffman’s performance in the film Rain Man.
Lastly, the crowd favorite, Evan Kelly, who plays the more evil of the two cops does an extraordinary job. The audience seemed to be always awaiting the next showing of Kelly. At times one could sense, the terror of the audience, fearing the intimidating stage presence of him. In fits of rage, tables and chairs, as though miniature, were tossed around the stage. Aggressive scenes, where the two law enforcement officers are present, intrigued everyone in the intimate space of the Zuccone.
The Pillowman, was a very different performance than most are familiar with. Its grotesque plot line, carried out what many found to be a solely tragic story. The mixture of genres, rubbed some people differently than it did others. It is safe to say that comedic tragedy, in this sense, takes some time to get used to. The performance just didn’t provide comedic outlook when the main character was killed in cold blood.
While lots of small punchlines are dropped, many failed to evoke a satisfactory response. Perhaps this show should merge in depicting an only tragic mood instead of confusing the audience with wisecracks. Or possibly, a smaller town like Duluth, will need more time to evolve in order to become aquatinted with this advanced type of show.
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on September 20, 2013 9:16 AM.
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