The Pillowman Aims to Thrill, Hosts ASL Interpreters for Second Weekend

On Friday, Nov. 9 at the Black Box Theatre, the Sundown Collaborative Theatre production team debuted a psychologically haunting rendition of “The Pillowman.” Directed by Julia Bodiford, Sundown’s take on Martin McDonagh’s 2003 hit captivates an audience that may still be surfing the thrill and dark humor of Halloween. The show will run a second weekend, with showtimes at 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 and 18. The second weekend will host ASL interpreters, making the production accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Katurian (played by Aaron Dismuke) is a smug yet pensive fiction writer with an unsettling imagination and four hundred tales of deranged taste. Living in an authoritarian state, he is detained and questioned by two detectives, the sardonic Tulpolski (Taylor Reed) and ferocious Ariel (Kurt Van Zandt) for the murder of three children – gruesome murders that replicate the plot of his own stories. Also detained is his mentally impaired brother, Michal (Robert Linder), who Katurian learns has not only confessed to the murders but has incriminated Katurian as well.

Make no mistake – this is not a story of the wrongfully blamed and a mislaid axe. This story is about stories: the artistic, human license to say something, even if, as Katurian says, one isn’t “really trying to say anything at all.”

 Aaron Dismuke (left) and Robert Linder (right) act in front of shadow puppets.

Aaron Dismuke (left) and Robert Linder (right) act in front of shadow puppets.

Sprinkled throughout the production are recountings of Katurian’s twisted tales. The use of shadow puppets leaves the audience riddled with goosebumps by each fable’s finale. The puppets were handmade by stage manager and artistic director of Sundown Collaborative Theatre Chloe McDowell, along with Lindsey Hall, Courtney Marie and Sarah Wiedenheft.

“I was very excited when Julia told me her idea to use shadow puppets for all of Katurian’s stories,” says McDowell. “It presented me with a welcome creative challenge and an opportunity to collaborate with other awesome Denton artists. It was a pretty intensive process between brainstorming, storyboarding, actual shadow puppet creation, photographing everything, and editing all the slides into something that helps weave the stories into the overall theatre experience.”

 Robert Linder (left) and Aaron Dismuke (right) play two brothers.

Robert Linder (left) and Aaron Dismuke (right) play two brothers.

Dismuke and Linder bring to life a plainly enigmatic relationship between brothers with a sordid past. As the sole protagonist of the play, Dismuke embodies a holier-than-thou persona that has the audience questioning Katurian’s creative license, or rather, if he should even have one. He sold the audience in the first scene for the outright care he showed for his troubled brother and continued to impress with flawless deliveries of Katurian’s stories. Dismuke scaled the complex layers of Katurian’s character and backstory with dexterity. Linder reciprocated by bringing us an animated and perplexed Michal. Linder’s portrayal of the “mentally defective brother” left the viewer inappropriately giggling, yet truly conflicted with how to properly bestow blame for the crime committed.

 Aaron Dismuke (left) and Taylor Reed (right).

Aaron Dismuke (left) and Taylor Reed (right).

And who doesn’t love a classic good cop-bad cop routine? Reed and Van Zandt will leave you begging for more interrogation. Traditionally cast as a male actor, Reed tinges the acerbic mood of Tulpolski with the quick sting and charm of feminine humor. Her seemingly passive yet demanding attitude leaves the victim of her bite feeling nothing less than humiliated.

Casting a female in Tulpolski’s role was a smart choice that added another layer of complexity to the dynamic, but what blew the top off the production was Van Zandt’s performance as Ariel. Van Zandt started in seventh gear and remained there until the end of the third act. He left the audience shifting constantly between laughing and cringing every time he burst onto the scene, and oftentimes, they were stuck on both. As the true focal point of the play, his rendition of Ariel is fiery and honest. The audience identified with his impassioned response to the murdered children, as well as his feelings of saltiness toward patronizing Tulpolski. In the end, it is Ariel who we look toward to determine the fate of Katurian’s stories.

 Taylor Reed (left) and Kurt Van Zandt (right) as detectives.

Taylor Reed (left) and Kurt Van Zandt (right) as detectives.

The show won a well-deserved standing ovation Saturday evening. One might even say it was worth Linder and Van Zandt’s sacrifices of their mighty manes. (R.I.P.)

Sundown Collaborative Theatre is a Denton-based production team “dedicated to exploring classic and contemporary theatre, along with poetry, music, and dance to present innovative performances.” You can find more information about their team and upcoming projects at the Sundown Collaborative Theatre Facebook page or www.sundowntheatre.org.

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Header image by Meg Amanita.
Header design by Clarissa Baniecki.
Photos by Meg Amanita.