A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach staged “The Pillowman” during July 11-13, 2019 under the auspices of The Young Creative Artist Series (YCAS), an educational program which offers a theatre mentorship by the creative team at Players for high school theatre students who would like to take on a project from start to finish. The program is sponsored by Florida Blue.
The play was presented by a group of students from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, who were responsible for everything – directing, casting, stage management, technical, and marketing. They had studied “Pillowman” in class but did not consider it suitable for production at DA due to content and language. The opportunity to produce it in the Studio Theatre at Players was the perfect project for these hard-working talented aspiring thespians. They choose a challenging script – for both actors and audience – and they did an outstanding job.
The play was written by Irish-British playwright Martin McDonagh, whose more well-known works include “Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “The Lonesome West.” “Pillowman,” written in 2003, received the 2004 Oliver award for Best New Play, and was well-received in New York, with six 2005 Tony nominations; two awards.
This dramatic thriller is the story of a writer in a totalitarian state who has written many short stories; most are unpublished. He is the leading suspect in the recent gruesome deaths of several children; the details mirror his short stories.
The play opens in a police station with the writer Katurian (Gannon Thomas) being questioned by a detective and a police officer. Good Cop Tupolski (Isabella Williams) and Bad Cop Ariel (Graciela Fernandez) spend most of the first act interrogating their captive.
The play contains both narration and reenactment of stories, and this is where other cast members contribute to the black humor that unfolds. Masks and shadow work were used effectively to portray many of the stories.
Mark Bellemare appears as Michal, Katurian’s brain-damaged brother, who was cared for as a child by Katurian. Michal has confessed to the murders and implicated Katurian, who has resigned himself to execution but hopes to save his stories from destruction for future publication. He also wants to protect Michal from execution and after lulling him to sleep, he smothers him with a pillow (as he smothered his parents earlier).
Kyle Worrell and Brynne Tolentino play the mother and father and other small roles. They portray his parents in white masks with black markings, and have no lines. Cecelia Despres is listed in the program as Girl. One dramatic scene which involves her is the story of “The Little Jesus,” in which she believes she is Jesus, wears a beard, is forced to carry a cross, and is crucified. Sort of.
The most demanding role in the play is that of Katurian played brilliantly by Gannon Thomas. He has most of the lines and long passages of recitation that he performed to perfection. He graduated from Douglas Anderson and will be a freshman in the fall at Shenandoah University.
Yes, Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” is a grim ghastly bit of storytelling that nevertheless held the audience spellbound under the skillful direction of Cameron Schmitt and Assistant Director Liam Carroll. Applause goes to all involved in the project.
The crew included Caroline Owen (Stage Manager), Anna Toutain (Production Manager), Hannah Neville (Physical Marketing), Kezia Ari (Social Marketing), Darvin Nelson (Artist & Photographer), and Mickenzie Lee (Masks & Shadow Work).
The three performances played to full houses with a young crowd of mainly DA students and friends. It was excellently cast and directed and had an outstanding crew to handle all the many other aspects of production. This is a summer project that comes with bragging rights – and we’re looking forward to seeing more of the project participants in the future.