Katurian (Tyler Freeman) awaits the outcome of his predicament in the dress rehearsal of The Pillowman
Katurian (Tyler Freeman) awaits the outcome of his predicament in the dress rehearsal of The Pillowman on Nov. 10, in the Blue Door Theater on Lane’s Main Campus. Photo by Jon Proper / theTorch

“It’s a dark, dark, dark Irish comedy,” Tara  Wibrew, guest director and Lane alumni, said of The Pillowman. “Which I guess means it’s an Irish comedy.” A play written by Martin McDonagh, an Academy Award winning Irish screenwriter known for his films “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” The Pillowman was part of his earlier work.

Presented by the Student Productions Association, The Pillowman is about a writer named Katurian who lives in a totalitarian dictatorship. The stories Katurian writes are gruesome and dark, many about the deaths of children. Coincidentally, children have begun to be murdered throughout town in a manner very similar to his stories and he is being blamed.

The play is set in an unnamed place and time, leaving it open to interpretation. While loosely based on the early 20th century, there are modern elements.

“When we think totalitarian dictatorship, a lot of times you’re thinking early 20th century,” said Wibrew, reminiscent stylistically of Franz Kafka. “The idea is that it’s timeless in a lot of ways and that’s because it plays with ideas of story and fairy tales and what we use stories for.”

Theater student Taylor Freeman, production manager and performing as Katurian in the play, describes the writer’s stories as a stylistic combination of Edgar Allen Poe and Grimm’s fairy tales. Freeman saw the show in early February at a competition in Washington state. “It was a phenomenal show. We talked about it for weeks afterward. We all deeply fell in love with [it],” Freeman said. “It’s a bucket list role for me.”

The play has two sets. One is a stark and dirty interrogation room, while the second is a storybook land with an innocent childlike theme. “I’ve created a very Blue’s Clues-esque [set], very simple pictures,” said Gordon McFarland, projectionist and SPA member. “It’s supposed to be modeled after Blue’s Clues or a children’s storybook. Very bright colors to contrast how … gruesome the stories are.”

The material itself is wordy and somber, making the characters seem very three-dimensional, Wibrew said. Characters aren’t perceived as only good or only bad. The play addresses the uncomfortable “gray space” of the human condition, a common theme with McDonagh.

“I play the closest thing to a protagonist this play has. You find reasons to love [the characters] and you find reasons to not,” said Freeman. “It’s very very real. I’m the closest thing the audience can root for.”

The show opened Nov. 13 in the Blue Door Theatre of Building 6. “Friday the 13th, the perfect day to open a dark comedy … every superstitious theater bone in my body says ‘don’t do it!’” said Wibrew. “But somehow for this show, it feels okay.”