LVLT’s ‘The Pillowman’ suffers from a lack of intensity in the second act

Las Vegas Little Theatre’s The Pillowman is a solid production, but cannot sustain the intensity of its theme.
Jacob Coakley

The Details

The Pillowman
Three stars
November 1-4; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $10-$15.
Las Vegas Little Theatre, 362-7996.

In a play stuffed with as many stories as The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, it makes sense that there are two tales to tell about the Lysander Abadia-directed production currently at the Las Vegas Little Theatre (in a co-production with Poor Richard’s Players).

The Pillowman is a latter-day fairy tale, a grueling, twisted take on human nature, set in a prison in a police state. Katurian (played by Benjamin Loewy) is “questioned” by two detectives—Ariel (Cory Goble) and Tupolski (Thomas Chrastka)—about the horror stories he has written and their connection to a string of murders. These murders may, or may not, have been perpetrated by Katurian’s brother Michal (played on alternate nights by Sean Critchfield and Sam Craner; I saw Critchfield’s performance).

The first act has the speed and menace of a switchblade. Even the asides to share gory, creepy tales are necessary, like bread crumbs guiding us not home but straight to the witch’s cauldron. Loewy inhabits the character of Katurian well in his confusion and anger, and while Goble and Chrastka’s cops sometimes fall into caricature, they contain enough darkness to keep the danger real. Critchfield makes strong choices as a developmentally challenged—“spastic,” in the words of the cops—brother. Sometimes they feel stereotypical, but Critchfield managed to keep bringing him back to reality.

The video design, by Anthony Barnaby, is simple and evocative, but the sound design, by Arles Estes, wasn’t up to his usual excellence, vacillating between literal interpretation and metaphoric soundscape. And though Kristin Maki’s set design might seem off-base with its asylum setting, it isn’t distracting during the show. The problems begin in the second act, when choices don’t pay off.

In the end, I just couldn’t feel Katurian’s struggle in the second act. I identified with his anguish in Act 1, but somehow his torture got lost, even as it became more literal. Some twist in the character eluded Loewy and Abadia, so while the stories got creepier, Katurian’s struggle didn’t get more intense. For one act this was an exhilarating, disturbing inferno of a show—and the memory of that stuck with me, even as the plot revolved, resolved and faded out.


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