Location: Astoria Performing Arts Center
Richard D. Busser, Avery Clark and Seth Duerr in The Pillowman. Photo by Jen Maufrais Kelly
BOTTOM LINE: Some great acting in a really wonderfully written and directed play. Loved it.
Get out your Metrocard and make your way to Queens, because the Astoria Performing Arts Center is presenting a wonderful production of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman
. The show is a dark comedy about the interrogation of a fiction writer, in an unnamed totalitarian state, whose gruesome short stories have eerie similarities to local horrific child murders. Director Tom Wojtunik has assembled a top notch cast who squeeze every last drop of drama and humor out of the text and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the whole production.
The play is full of storytelling and contradictions. Throughout the show, characters tell stories that have a twist at the end so that what happens is unexpected. The play itself is lot like that too. The good guys may be bad guys, the good cop may be the bad cop and somehow the actors make every single character likable even when the lines they say should make you hate them. Somehow, this is a play about really horrible things like child abuse, murder and torture, yet we still find ourselves laughing. It gives us questions to which we can't wait to learn the answer.
All of the actors do a great job and I can't imagine anyone playing these roles better. Avery Clark plays Katurian, the writer who is accused of the child murders and is instantly likable from the moment the lights come up on him in the first scene. He is funny and sad, tragic and heroic, sarcastic and earnest all at the same time and still conveys a likability. See what I mean about contradictions? He is interrogated by two cops (Seth Duerr and Richard D. Busser) who readily identify themselves as "good cop" and "bad cop" but they switch those positions continuously until you are no longer sure which one is which. Duerr is smarmy, smug and perfectly slimy all the while assuring us he is a man of his word. He manages to get laughs while talking about the mutilation of a child and it's funny. Again with the contradictions. Busser is frightening from the start but even while he relishes every opportunity to torture or punish, he too is able to make the audience see a side of him that is likable. In the role of Katurian's slowwitted brother Michael, Nathan Brisby takes a character that could easily fall into cliché and makes the man a real human being. He is honest and childlike but has a history that would suggest otherwise. His final scene in the play is brilliantly simple and makes for the most touching moment of the evening. As Mother and Father in a series of flashbacks, Karen Stanion and Justin Herfel make small moments into huge ones with great characterizations. They too are a contradiction. As we learn of their horrible past, we, again, laugh at things that should not be funny.
Wojtunik does an amazing job with the direction. The show is fast-paced and even the scene changes are interesting to watch because he has the actors reacting to each other during them as if they are a continuation of the scene. He has found the perfect balance of suspense and humor in a play that is loaded with the aforementioned contradictions. A possible killer is likable? We can laugh comfortably at torture? He makes these things possible. The set is efficient and cleverly designed with a great use of scrims to show different locations.
All in all, I loved this production. It is filled with great performances, surprises and stories about horrible things and it is enthralling. If you want to find out what The Pillowman
means, go to Astoria and find out. It's one of the many stories told by this superb cast and it will stick with you for days afterwards. And so will the show. Contrary to popular belief, great theater does not only happen in Manhattan. Right now it is happening on the stage of Astoria Performing Arts Center.
(The Pillowman plays through Saturday, November 21. Performances are Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. To purchase tickets visit at apacny.org or call 866-811-4111. Directions to the theatre: Take the N or W Subway to 30th Avenue. Walk down 30th Ave. to Crescent St. [Mount Sinai Hospital is on the corner.] Walk one block South to 30th Road. Running Time is 155 minutes.)