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Theatre Info for the Richmond region

Cadence Theatre Company The Pillowman

By • Nov 3rd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Pillowman
Cadence Theatre Company
Virginia Rep Center – Theatre Gym, Richmond, VA
Through November 10th
$28/$10 Students/$20 Rush
3:00 with intermission
Reviewed November 2nd, 2012

Seeing The Pillowman by Cadence Theater Company in partnership with Virginia Repertory Theater was a night of firsts for me. Not only was it the first show I had seen by this group, it was the first show I saw I have seen in the complex’s Theater Gym (a very small, painted brick theater, reminiscent of Greenwich Village; where the audience is all almost within reach of the stage) and I got to learn first hand about something called “First Friday” in Richmond. During First Friday, crowds of people literally take over the streets (good luck driving past them and even better luck finding parking where you won’t get ticketed or towed!)

And while parking was a nightmare; nightmare would be a good word to sum up The Pillowman. Playwright Martin McDonagh has not written anything close to a children’s bed time story, as the title might seem. Rather, it is a dark comedy, very appropriate for the Halloween season. The nightmarish story also is not one to be told to young children as a “Parental Discretion Advised” sign in the lobby warns. The language and themes (as well as cigarette smoke from a chain-smoking character) would not be appropriate for children. As was evidenced by frequent bouts of nervous laughter among the small audience; the play mixes humor with the grotesque leaving the audience jumping from terror and horror to laughter throughout.

The Pillowman deals with extremely heavy subject matter including child abuse, torture and murder. A writer named Katurian Katurian (Jonathan Conyers) is being interrogated by two rather aggressive detectives in an unidentified “totalitarian state” where they can do pretty much whatever they wish to get a confession. The acting clearly shows (and the script later flatly states) Tupolski (David Bridgewater) is the “good cop” to Ariel’s (Tony Foley) “bad cop.” Children in town are being murdered in a manner similar to some of Katurian’s most gruesome stories and the detectives want to know how Katurian may have been involved.

Conyers is excellent as the main character who holds this entire play together. His nervous energy keeps the action moving, despite a small stage and at times stagnant blocking. He comes across as likeable and complex as his almost simple na├»ve boy like demeanor mix with a scary twisted mind that can create nightmarish horror tales worthy of an R-rated Twilight Zone yet results in a dead pan comedy straight man’s dream. His banter with Bridgewater (Tupolski) is sharp, humorous and believable, and gets the play off to an energetic start. Bridgewater is consistent and believable as the sarcastic and cynical detective and does well to utilize the small stage space to keep his character interesting and in command. Foley’s bad cop is not as consistent. He does well in the second act, when the character executes a greater range of emotions, but in Act 1, he does not seem natural in displaying his characters threatening demeanor; and seems a bit uncomfortable and restrained in physical intimidation as well as both his cursing and his yelling.

The stand out performance came from Katurian’s mentally handicapped older brother Michal (David Janeski) whom Katurian has raised since they were young boys. Janeski manages to portray a man who is mentally retarded and physically handicapped in such a funny and likeable manner that he is able to walk the fine line between comedy and politically incorrect. Both vocally and through his facial characteristics, Janeski creates a very believable and at times empathetic character (although at times his voice seems to add a bit of an Irish lilt and physically, he does not seem to carry Michal’s “spastic-ness” beyond his hands and a limp).

McDonagh uses the “story within a story” device well throughout the play; having various characters read or act out Katurian’s short stories. Eric Brenner (the boy) does a remarkable job of using his body and facial characteristics to show a range of emotions without uttering a word. Sophie Shannon (the girl) also shines in several small roles to show a range of emotions and comedic timing. Matt Hackman (the man) and Emma Louise Mason (the woman) make the most of their various fictionalized characters to show enough variety to make you forget they are the same actors who had portrayed “caricatures” in earlier scenes.

McDonagh would have done well though to rework the division of the acts. With the first act running at almost 2 hours, the telling of a bedtime story to lull a character to sleep at the end of the act ran the risk of also sending the audience to see a different pillow man.

Director Steve Perigard utilizes the small stage to keep the long monologues from becoming stagnant. At times, scenes where characters sat and talked could have used some more movement, but the actor’s energy filled most of these spaces well. Brian Barker’s set was functional and worked well throughout the play to set the mood. Scene changes were quick and flaweless. K. Jenna Free did some brilliant lighting work, especially during one of the scenes with the girl.

As Cadence Theater Company in partnership with Virginia Repertory Theater continue to grow together, they will need to work on better soundproofing the Theater Gym. Noise from the hallway, as well as music (especially bass) could frequently be heard over the actors.

The poignant and tense final scene left the audience on their feet, as the second act (which ran less than an hour) left the audience drawn into the climax. Just as the Halloween season draws to an end, the run of The Pillowman ends soon, and the edge of your seat dark comedy is worth the trip (as long as it is not First Friday).

Photo Gallery

Photo 1 Photo 2

Photos provided by Cadence Theater Company

The Cast

  • Katurian: Jonathan Conyers
  • Tupolski: David Bridgewater
  • Ariel: Tony Foley
  • Michal: David Janeski
  • The Boy: Eric Brenner
  • The Man: Matt Hackman
  • The Woman: Emma Louise Mason
  • The Girl: Sophie Shannon

The Crew

  • Director and Sound Designer: Steve Perigard
  • Assistant Director and Stage Manager: Melissa Rayford
  • Production Manager and Technical Director: Matthew Landwehr
  • Scenic Design: Brian Barker
  • Running Crew: Connor Scully, Marquis Hazelwood
  • Fight Choreographer: Aaron Oresnky
  • Fight Captain and Weapons Master: Mark Caudle
  • Lighting Design: K Jenna Ferree
  • Costume and Make up Design: Holly Sullivan
  • Sound Board Operator: Taniqua Jones
  • Properties Design: Kevin Johnson
  • Scenic Artist: Adam Dorland
  • American Sign Language Translator/ Coach: Catherine Dudley
  • Photography: Jason Collins Photography
  • Video Production: Reamer and Yeatts Media Productions
  • Video Soundtrack Design: Jesse Senechal
  • House Management: Sarah Stepahin and Anna Johnson
  • Internet Services Manager: Lindsay C. Terrell
  • Marketing Director and Program Design: Billy Christopher Maupin
  • Program Design Support: Susan Senechal
  • Administrative and Marketing Intern: Sarah Stepahin
  • Literary Associate: Claire Yenson

Disclaimer: Cadence Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is by day a Special Education teacher, teaching History, Science and drama to Middle and High School students in a private Day School in Stafford. He has degrees in Educational Media and Special Education. He is also a part time Radio News Anchor and occasional actor in the Richmond area. Bruce is a native of New Jersey and spent most of his "adult" life in Upstate New York, where he started and ran a national award winning youth theater and cable television program for over 10 years. He has lived in Virginia since 2002, and in Caroline County since 2005, where he is active in many community groups; including serving on the Board of Caroline's Promise.

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