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Falcon’s Masterfully Perfomed “Pillowman” Sure to Keep You Awake

Review by Laurel Humes of The Pillowman: Falcon Theatre

The acting is mesmerizing in Falcon Theatre’s current production of The Pillowman.

Bravo, because in less-skilled hands this dark, gruesome play would be even more difficult to watch.

Playwright Martin McDonagh deals in grim and violent themes, which more people know now through the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which he wrote and directed. He won the Golden Globe for best screenplay, and the film is nominated for several Academy Awards.

Falcon followers also will remember the Newport theatre’s excellent production of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane just two years ago. It also was directed by Ed Cohen.

The Pillowman does not stray from McDonagh’s overarching message: the horrific things, emotional and physical, that we humans are capable of doing to one another.

The Pillowman is set in a totalitarian police state, place and time unspecified. Katurian, a short story writer, is being interrogated by two police detectives. His stories of child abuse and torture -– several of which we hear — mirror the recent deaths of possibly three children.

If Katurian could write about such ghastly acts, is it because he also performed them? The police are sure the answer is yes, and they are not above torturing their suspect to get a confession.

Katurian’s brother, Michal, also is brought in for questioning. Described only as “slow to get things,” he is apparently developmentally disabled, which makes him more cooperative under questioning.

That is all the plot that can be recounted without giving away the twists and turns that elicited some gasps from the audience; we didn’t see THAT coming. And, we will learn, each character has a reason for his actions.

Rory Sheridan as Katurian carries the show. He’s in every scene. He is both character and acts as narrator, when he retells his stories to us. That plot device by McDonagh is essential to our understanding.

Sheridan’s range is masterful. He is equally believable portraying fear at the hands of his interrogators, love and warmth toward his brother, and then anger and shock as events play out.

Michael A. Monks is the adoring brother, Michal. Monks confidently strides the fine line of portraying a mildly disabled man, never slipping into caricature. He is the center of the late first-act bombshell.

Joe Hornbaker is terrific as Tupolski, the big, genial “good cop” playing off Nathan Tubbs’ “bad cop.” Hornbaker doesn’t seem to act as much as be the character. His dialogue is embellished with gestures, facial expressions and even the naturalistic “ums” and “ahs” that pepper all our speech.

Physically smaller, Tubbs contrasts with Hornbaker in other ways. His character is menacing and violent; he is the first to reach for the torture tools. Tubbs shows his character’s arrogance from his first strides onstage and never lets up.

The Pillowman, first staged in London in 2003 and later on Broadway, won Best Play awards for McDonagh – rightfully so.

The Pillowman runs through Feb. 10 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.