I have always liked to walk into plays that I have never heard about. There is something magical about entering a completely new world; you’ve read no previews, no guides, no scripts, no cast, no title. More often than not, I recommend doing that.
Unfortunately, we can’t always just jump in and allow ourselves to experience something new. Batesies know very well that finals week is approaching fast, so here is the incentive you needed to watch The Pillowman this weekend (Dec 8-12, tickets recommended).
One hour before the show starts you will probably find yourself pondering: “should I really watch The Pillowman or should I study for [include random final exam]?” I can say with a fair amount of certainty that you would be better off by watching The Pillowman. If you choose not to watch it and you are anything like me, you will spend your time procrastinating rather than studying. Little you know, but you would have missed a great show.
The plot is acclaimed. The Pillowman won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best New Play in 2004. Martin McDonagh, author of The Pillowman, is known for having an explosive and violent writing style. He is considered one of the best Irish playwrights alive. “You think you figured it out and then everything changes… This happens every 15 minutes in this play” – A friend from theater tech mentioned in an informal conversation about the show.
This first impression is just as to be expected given that the director is Samuel Wheeler ’17. I have the pleasure to have Sam as a friend and he is a very talented performer, actor and director. He has a very peculiar taste and I can only expect the unexpected when it comes down to The Pillowman.
In an interview, Wheeler told me he fell in love with the Irish dark comedy and storytelling during his semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland. His fascination with The Pillowman is evident in his words: “Everybody loves stories. My favorite thing about stories like The Pillowman is that even in their gruesomeness, there is still beauty.” Wheeler also revealed that, although it is a dark and profound show, it is also hilarious.
One thing that surprised me very much is how little people were willing to reveal about the actual plot. “A writer in a totalitarian state is brought in for questioning about the linkage of his gruesome short stories to child murders that have been occurring. That’s the basic premise of the show without giving many secrets away,” Wheeler told me in interview. All I know is that it will be heavy, intense and complex. I have heard rumors of an amazing soundtrack as well. As I started to ask more and more questions about the play, everyone told me the same: “I don’t want to ruin it for you. You got to take your own conclusions when you see it.”
It strikes me that Wheeler and McDonagh have similar goals. I read some articles and interviews on McDonagh’s writing process. When he was describing his creation process for another play to The Guardian, he mentioned that he “had to find the story and let the issues just bubble underneath.” Wheeler, in our conversation, mentioned that “allowing the audience to pull what they want and directing it in such a fashion where it does not spoon-feeding the audience was a goal from the start.” If there is one thing I am sure is that Wheeler and McDonagh interested in taking complexity to another level. Art can be beautiful and gruesome, bittersweet, warm and dark… all at the same time. The Pillowman seems to be the kind of play in which it is impossible not to be excited.
This next weekend, I invite you to expect the unexpected with me at Gannett Theater. I challenge you to see theater differently: theater can be your break from “study,” but “study” can also be your break from theater. Art has a transformative potential that should not be overlooked. The playwright is described as having “a punk spirit” by The Guardian. But truly, I got my cue when Sam Wheeler and I crossed paths by chance one day. Even though he was visibly excited about the show, all he said was that The Pillowman was going to be incredibly deep… Sometimes a play can reveal much more about humanity, life and justice than a dozen textbooks combined. You must see it for yourself.