Watch out for The Pillowman

Scotch ’n’ Soda performed playwright Martin McDonagh’s dark play The Pillowman at the end of last week for a total of three satisfactory performances. The play, directed by first-year drama major Lillian DeRitter, was super-stylized and elegant, if at times more comedic than intended.

The Pillowman focuses on a writer named Katurian after his arrest. In the play, Katurian is taken in for questioning by the police; his stories, many of which end with the deaths of children, begin to come true in a series of grisly murders. The police also question his brother Michal, who is mentally unstable due to unjust experimentation.

In Scotch ’n’ Soda’s performance, the lead siblings change from brothers to sisters, played by first-year H&SS student Ellene Mobbs and sophomore creative and professional writing major Elyssa Goodman. The casting for the play was gender-blind; actors auditioned for every character, experimenting with mixes of male and female siblings and cops. Eventually Scotch ’n’ Soda settled on female siblings and male cops. “Elyssa’s reading of Michal ended up defining Michal for me,” DeRitter stated in an e-mail. “In my opinion, Katurian is more of a catalyst than a main character, so finding a Katurian and Michal that worked together was crucial.”

As the audience entered Rangos, Katurian (Mobbs) sat blindfolded in a chair, setting the awkward scene of onlookers witnessing torture. The set, made of two large white boxes able to move to create new settings, allowed for video to be projected as visual representations of Katurian’s stories. It could expand to become the questioning room or shrink to become the bedroom of Katurian’s childhood. Thus, the set was purely utilitarian, which emphasized the setting of authoritarian society. “The monochromatic palate worked wonders in this respect because it established an unfeeling, foreign space immediately that could be transformed into a sparse, uncomfortable bedroom for the tortured child that was Katurian,” DeRitter said. “The screens worked beautifully I think, because what is storytelling if not revealing secrets then covering them up again?”

The technical aspects of the show were all outstandingly executed. There were a few difficulties with placement of the projectors for the video, but all of the behind-the-scenes work was accomplished well. The set was beautiful and well constructed, emblematic of the entire play. The lighting felt deliberate and stark, like being watched.

The acting was also satisfying, although sometimes a bit over the top. While DeRitter encouraged the audience to laugh if they ever felt awkward from the tense moments of the play, some unsuccessfully stifled laughter came from accidentally comic moments. But most of the laughter came from truly funny performances, like Tupolski (junior computer science and philosophy major Daniel Dewey), a man almost matter-of-factly cruel. Though his character did not appear for an entire act, he managed to hang over the rest of the place; his presence was sorely missed in scenes where he left the room. As Katurian is investigated by Dewey’s detective and cop Ariel (sophomore computer science major Matt Goldfarb), the audience learned about these characters as well, through the personal details they let slip during the interrogation.
As Katurian’s sister, the mentally challenged Michal, Goodman shone portraying what his brother Katurian called a “pervert.” Though it might seem that Michal’s childish giggle would start to annoy more than amuse, Goodman’s unwavering portrayal kept things under control. Both Dewey and Goodman were hilarious, making up for other sagging areas of the cast.