Creepy Brilliance

The Pillowman is playwright Martin McDonagh at his best

Adopting a performance style that is as deadpan as it is cartoonish, the actors are equally responsible for driving McDonagh's story. As Katurian and Michal respectively, Erik Lochtefeld and Matthew Maher achieve a pristine balance between savagery and tenderness. Meanwhile, Tony Amendola and Andy Murray's turns as cops Tupolski and Ariel combine a brutality akin to the Officer's in Kafka's horrifying torture story "In the Penal Colony" with a touch of the frazzled, sitcom dad.

The upshot of the experience of seeing The Pillowman at Berkeley Rep is a profound sense of awe at the potential of theater as a storytelling medium. It is this — and this alone — that makes me want to dash off to Belgium to wrestle the camera out of McDonagh's hands. It's not that I have doubts about McDonagh's abilities as a filmmaker; his narrative instincts are as sharp in his Oscar-winning short, Six Shooter, as they've ever been on stage. In Bruges might even turn out to be one of the must-see films of 2008. It's just that McDonagh's primary skill — his ability to manipulate an audience with a shocking, provocative tale — doesn't translate as effectively in a medium as weighed down by the conventions of naturalism as cinema.

(L to R) Nancy Carlin, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Howard Swain perform in The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh at Berkeley Rep.
Kevin Berne
(L to R) Nancy Carlin, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Howard Swain perform in The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh at Berkeley Rep.

Details

Through Mar. 11; Tickets are $45-61; call (510) 647 2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St (at Shattuck), Berkeley

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I'll just have to hope that this budding Scorsese eventually tires of Hollywood and returns to the fold. But even if McDonagh ends up moving to Los Angeles and never steps inside a theater again, Katurian's stories will live on, long after the final frame.

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