Sunday, August 10, 2008


Saw "The Pillowman" last night at the WHAT (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater). We were too cowardly to see this production in New York but forced ourselves to face it here because we had free babysitting and there were two tickets left. Incredible. Horrific. Inspirational. Catholic? yeah, that too. Highly recommended.

Brief reviews focus on the fact that a writer is imprisoned and tortured by the police in an unnamed authoritarian dictatorship of some kind. But politics and the impossibility of knowing why you are accused is really more of a mcguffin than a real theme. The police believe, with good evidence, that the writer is actually involved in the gruesome murders of three children--murders that follow closely on his unpublished short stories which dwell with bizarre unsentimental tenderness of the murder and torture of children by the adults in their lives. The play starts with the tortureof the writer and rapid fire, often funny, interrogations about the meaning of words and acts, the role of writing in society, things like that. But the fact of the matter--if a fictional play has facts--is that the police, however compromised by their own abuses of power and their own personal histories of violence, have very good material evidence linking the writer to the crimes.

I don't want to spoil the story for you all in case you get a chance to see it. I knew enough to worry about how gruesome this would be, but not enough to know how things were really going to play out. And there are many surprising twists and turns in the second act--so don't walk out at intermission like the six people behind us, grumbling that the play is "mean." I recommend this brilliant New Yorker essay on the playwright too.

He's quite the prodigy:

McDonagh quit his job at the Department of Trade and Industry and, alone in the house in Camberwell, began to write every day. In nine months, he produced drafts of seven plays—his entire dramatic corpus. (Only one of the plays has not been staged: “The Banshees of Inisheer,” which, McDonagh says, “isn’t any good.”) Each morning, after eating a bowl of bran flakes, he would sit in his bedroom, at a child’s desk facing a window with a view of a bleak concrete yard, and write with a pencil in a spiral notebook. He would begin by making a mark in the notebook two pages ahead of where he had left off the previous night. Then he would listen to the voices in his head, voices that spoke not in Mamet’s caustic American or in Pinter’s terse London English but in the looping locutions of Connemara. McDonagh felt almost as though he were taking dictation.

This little biographical vignette tells you a lot about the writer's mind and its what made me want to see the play. I was quite surprised to find it embedded, like a nugget of rock in a granite slab, at the heart of the Pillowman.

When he was sixteen, he told John a story based on an old folktale: A lonely little boy is on a bridge at dusk when a sinister man approaches. The man is driving a cart on the back of which are foul-smelling animal cages. The boy conquers his fear, offers the man some of his supper, and the two sit and talk. Before the man leaves, he says that he wants to give the boy something whose value he may not understand but will soon come to appreciate. The boy accepts. The man takes a meat cleaver from his pocket and chops off the toes of the boy’s right foot. As the man drives away, he tosses the boy’s toes to the rats that have suddenly begun to gather in the gutters of the town, whose name, we now learn, is Hamelin. The man is the Pied Piper, who saves Hamelin from the plague but kidnaps the local children when the town’s elders refuse to compensate him for his efforts. The boy is the only one of Hamelin’s children to survive, because he cannot keep up with the other kids, who follow the Piper out of town.
See what I mean? Creepy, but imagine that at the heart of the story? You won't be sorry you see it, if you go.


Damn, this posted in the wrong place. Hope someone reads it!