Nothing less than the nature of Truth is poked and prodded, pushed and pulled, rolled all about and stomped on a few times in The Now Theatre’s fine production of “The Pillowman” by Irish playwright Martin McDonough. That infamously thin dividing line between fact and fiction never seemed more malleable.
Nic Adams, working on a nearly bare stage at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., directs his cast of four with a clear eye on the complexities of McDonough’s language. The play is set mostly in the interrogation room of a police station in an unnamed “totalitarian state.”
It used to be our nation’s bias to believe that people who lived in totalitarian states were always victims of raw and relentless governments. But as more and more horror stories come to light about the behavior of America’s own military in the current string of wars in the Middle East, the United States no longer seems immune to justifying cruel treatment in order to achieve its own ends.
Such metaphors flow easily, watching the devious mind games of government interrogators Tupolski (Matt Bowdren) and Ariel (Nick Trice) as they work over the fractured Katurian (Lee Rayment) and his mentally challenged brother Michal (Brian Johnson).
The arc of the play belongs to Rayment, who defies our expectations with his every phrase. An ever-changing series of facts keeps topping the last false assumption with a new one.
For the audience, after an hour or so of being sent reeling by one game-changing admission after another, it’s easy to start feeling a little groggy. Sort of mentally punch drunk.
Finally, we realize the playwright is testing our willingness to let go of the truth, to stop trying to make sense (as David Byrne once demanded in the Talking Heads concert film).
Another realization is how short our attention spans have become, how unaccustomed our ears have become to dense language often delivered in Pinter-esque cadences. (There’s also a joke in there about describing certain characteristics of anything as “-esque.”)
There is lots of humor in Martin McDonough‘s award-winning Broadway play, despite the raw language and vivid descriptions of torturing and murdering children. So don’t be afraid to laugh. Something has to break the tension now and then.
“Pillowman” runs nearly two and one-half hours, with two 10-minute intermissions. Attending a performance does take more than the usual level of commitment to the average theatrical production.
But you can be sure that final act is just as brilliantly constructed. All the brutality, all the twisted images, the pain both mental and physical, everything that builds the story’s emotional bitterness to rancid levels, becomes an equally satisfying release.
Rayment is brilliant as the helpless Katurian, whose life is shredded right before our eyes. He captures the prisoner’s determination to salvage something from his desperate situation, even as the police questioning keeps adding pressure that squeezes still more air from his wrecked body.
Bowdren and Trice as the good cop and bad cop, respectively, are convincing enough in their bullying tactics. Johnson as the least tortured needs to act more tortured.
But the ensemble works well together, the message is powerful. The images that Now Theatre creates on the Rogue Theatre stage will stay in your mind for a very long time.
Artists at The Rogue generously serve as mentors to those at The Now Theatre, and the two share a commitment to language and idea-based plays.
"The Pillowman" is presented Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug 7.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door (cash only), or online by visiting www.theroguetheatre.org.
Ticket reservations can be made by calling949-547-6067. Reservations are encouraged for all performances.
Free parking is available in The Rogue Theatre's parking lot off Herbert Avenue (the alley just east of the theatre).