I’m there in the basement theatre of The Underground Collaborative before the show. The show is Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. It’s a dystopian interrogation drama that I’ve seen a couple of times before. No surprises with the script for this one: I already love it. An obscure writer of small fictions is trapped in dystopian shadows being questioned about murders she's only scarcely even heard of. What’s not to love?
Something sounding like late ‘80s/early ‘90s metal is playing while people talk about the things people talk about before a show. And I’m sitting alone in front waiting for an interrogation. I’m sitting right in the front row in front of the blindfolded woman onstage playing Katurian. She's firmly entrenched in her character's distinctively brave and patient terror. Rose Grizzell reaches out--blindly feeling an accordion folder on the table in front of her as I take another sip of Yankee Buzzard IPA. An electric guitar riffs through speakers. Katurian fidgets in her own kind of silence. It’s the Underground Collaborative and I’m there with others who have shown-up for the final dress rehearsal.
Sarah Harris has really put together a remarkably oppressive set for the show painstakingly draped in minimalist lighting by Ellie Rabinowitz. The table is accompanied by a couple of folding chairs. Everything’s overshadowed by cinderblock walls. There's a section of those walls which pulls-back on a couple of different occasions as the woman playing the writer launches into a couple of stories on a couple of different occasions. I've seen the show done with far less.
Yes: the writer Katurian is traditionally played by a guy. McDonagh has been asked. He’s given his blessing on having a woman in the role. Grizzell is crushingly captivating as Katurian. I never recall having seen her before. There are a LOT of great actresses in town. Turns out Grizzell is one of them. I hope I get to see her in more. Of course...I'm not likely to see her in anything quite as close to the center of the stage as Katurian in The Pillowman. So much of the drama hinges on the emotions and revelations of the storyteller. It would really be a dream role for many actors. Grizzell handles it brilliantly. Looks like I have another favorite local actress. A drama like this? All you really need is a card table and some folding chairs. Maybe an old mattress and a pillow.
It’s an interrogation drama, so the close quarters of the Underground Collaborative are perfect. This is literally an interrogation in a basement. The sense of oppressive incarceration is deliciously disturbing...especially from the front row. The subtle intricacy of Grizzell’s performance is intellectually engaging. On a number of different occasions, the character is thinking aloud...and Grizzell makes it feel so organic that I almost felt compelled to engage with her in conversation. You really feel trapped in there with her. Especially in the front row.
This is such an engrossing production of one of my favorite scripts. Director Jaimelyn Gray has brought everything into the tiny basement space with careful consideration. Really happy to have been able to see this one again.
The Constructivists’ production of The Pillowman opens tonight and runs through November 10 at the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Avenue. For ticket reservations and more, visit the Constructivists online. A full, concise review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.
***SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATION WITH SPOILERS***
There are only a couple of things in the production that didn’t feel totally authentic to me. One of them turns out to actually cast a really interesting light on the psychology of the two central characters. There’s a physical interaction between Katurian and her brother that...on the surface doesn’t seem at all believable. J.J. Gatesman has done a good job of fight choreography with the diminutive Grizzell and a physically robust Logan Milway (who played Grizzell’s brother.) Watch that scene between Katurian and his brother assuming that everything that you’re seeing is done intentionally. It speaks a great deal about the psychology and emotional interaction between Katurian and her brother. The physical interaction only seems kind of unbelievable until you think about it. There’s a complex interplay between the siblings that has been going on for a long time that finally has a chance to play out in that moment. It’s actually kind of fascinating in retrospect.