Once upon a time, in a room that looked like a fifth-grade classroom after a firebombing followed by an era of mildew, a man named Katurian (Martel Manning) was being questioned. Katurian was a writer of stories that felt like Edward Gorey had infiltrated the dreams of Franz Kafka. In a totalitarian dictatorship such as he was in, the resemblance of recent child murders to the themes of his writing has been taken as practical proof of his guilt. "We like executing writers. . . . You execute a writer, it sends out a signal, y'know?" says good cop Tupolski (Cyd Blakewell). Bad cop Ariel (Gregory Fenner) is less concerned with messaging than with the noble use of excessive force, an obsession pegged to his "problem childhood."
Amid the interrogation and torture, the theme of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman (2003) is storytelling itself—what we write, and why, and what happens when the sense we make of senseless things like loss becomes the trap of a flawed existence, rather than an escape from it. Under Laura Alcalá Baker's direction, Gift Theatre's production tensely renders the darkness and the wonder of McDonagh's brilliant nightmare. Katurian's relationship with his abused brother Michal (Jay Worthington) roams from protection to disillusionment, sometimes burdened by and sometimes made divine by love, representing the best and worst of characters who never lose touch with their human qualities in a world with no happy endings. Inspired use of puppetry (designed by Daniel Dempsey) brings Katurian's stories, which structure the work, to life. v