At the Booth Theater
Starring Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum
Sometimes you see a work of art, and remember why you suffer though mediocre rock shows on a Tuesday night, or 5 movies you'll never think off again. Martin McDonough's latest play "The Pillowman" is one of those pieces that makes you remember what true originality is. While starting off slow, the play weaves its path showing flashes of pure brillance in it's unpredictable dialogue. It's darkly funny, bringing laughs from sinster turns of phrase and luridly shocking scenes. You can hear the audience stifling laughter, unsure if they should laugh or be horrified. This is a play miles away from your standard Broadway fluff, forcing audiences out complacency and into a harsh, brutal world.
The striking staging also reveals unexpected moments. The play takes place in an unnamed totalitarian state, opening with a scene in a dark box of an interrogation cell, lit only by a single-bulb on a string. Slowly, as the play unfolds, the walls reveal hidden scenery. As the lead, Billy Crudup is arresting, explaining himself by telling a small portion of his life's work, 400 fictionalized short stories. The tales are acted out in garishly illuminated, slightly askew rooms set in recesses high in the dark walls, giving the scenes a scary funhouse feel. Crudup and his brother have been brought in for questioning by the authorities (Jeff Goldblum in a hard boiled film noir-like cop role) because the horrific killings of children in a series of recent local crimes seems to directly parallel Crudup's stories.
Michael Stuhlber as Michal, the mentally defective, yet perceptive older brother stunted by 7 years of torture by his parents nearly steals the show, providing some of the best comic moments with his childlike flashes of emotion. But more importantly than the humor, McDonagh's play asks the audience to examine the constantly shifting differences between reality and fiction, and how telling stories allows anyone to create a persona and world of their own choice. Everyone in this play is a storyteller; the invigorating challenge of trying to figure out what perceptions are true keep the viewer utterly engaged.