BWW Reviews: 7 Towers Theatre's THE PILLOWMAN is a Gripping, Chilling Theatrical Event

By: Jul. 24, 2013

The sound of slamming metal doors and the sight of a hooded figure sitting in a dirty, shadowy, bloodstained interrogation room greet audience members as they enter the Dougherty Arts Center for 7 Towers Theatre's production of The Pillowman. Clearly what is about to follow will not be comfortable or cheerful. The memorable dark, ominous tableau is nothing compared to what comes next. The Pillowman is one of those theatrical events that seldom comes along. It's sinister, sadistic, haunting, and while it may not be pleasant, it is entirely unforgettable.

The play by Martin McDonagh, the same violent and warped mind behind The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, tells the tale of Katurian, a short-story writer with an affinity for exploring themes involving extreme violence and torture of innocent children. After three real children are murdered in the same way as some of Katurian's characters, the police bring him and his mentally handicapped brother in for questioning, and what follows is a disturbing two-and-a-half hours of unsettling twists and turns. True to McDonagh's form, this is a play that will make you laugh and think, and though it may occasionally make you sick to your stomach, it is easily among the smartest plays of the past decade.

The world created by director Christina Gutierrez and her creative team seamlessly blends with McDonagh's incredibly clever and unnerving script. Gutierrez establishes tension between Katurian and the police from the first moments, and that tension is palatable from begging to end. Derek Kollouri's set is appropriately bleak and dusty, as is Amy Lewis's moody lighting. And while the expressionistic, Tim Burton-esque shadow puppets used to bring Katurian's stories to life should go against the very real, unwelcoming world, they oddly compliment the contrasting visual style. Katie Rose Pipkin's puppets are emotional, expressive, and a standout in a production where every element has a successful impact and pay off. Moreover, their interaction with other shadows created by live actors is completely unexpected and inventive.

Gutierrez also has the blessing of a stellar cast which lives up to the same standards of excellence. David J. Boss is devilishly funny as Tupolski, the dryer and more sardonic of the two detectives, and the arrogance he brings to the role is plenty of fun. As the angry and barbaric Detective Ariel, Stephen Price is fantastic. Just when you think McDonagh has turned him into a stock character, a few surprises come along that Price is more than able to deliver. As Katurian, Travis Bedard gives a completely unexpected performance. While Bedard often plays the more intimidating and primeval of characters (Lucifer in Doctor Faustus, Titus in Titus Andronicus), it's fun to see him play against his usual type. It's a treat to see Bedard start the evening as a nervous, neurotic, shriveling mess of a man and slowly progress to a strong, confident hero. And in the supporting role of Katurian's brother Michael, Aaron Black is astonishing. He's immediately likeable and charming. While it must be a challenge to play a mentally challenged character without being offensive, Black effortlessly creates a character who is incredibly believable and nuanced.

While the material may be intense, disturbing, and alarming, 7 Towers' production of The Pillowman is an astounding achievement and easily one of the best shows of the Austin 2012-2013 season. As Katurian says early on in the show, "The first duty of a storyteller is to tell a story." 7 Towers doesn't just tell the story. They shock and entertain in the process.

Top Photo: Travis Bedard (L) and puppets by Katie Rose Pipkin.

Bottom Photo: Travis Bedard (L) and Aaron Black (R).

NOTE: Recommended for mature audiences only.

THE PILLOWMAN, produced by 7 Towers Theatre Company, plays the Dougherty Arts Center at 1110 Barton Springs Road, Austin TX 78704. Performances are Friday 7/26 thru Saturday 7/28 at 8pm. Tickets are $20. For tickets and more information, please visit


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