“Pillowman” examines morals with dark comedy

Olivia Hendricks

His blood-red, grinning lips make him look something like a clown, but his white, circular head and coal-black eyes give the impression he has walked straight out of a nightmare. If you have paid attention while walking along College Avenue or through the Lawrence campus, chances are you have seen his face smiling at you from the posters announcing Lawrence University’s presentation of “The Pillowman.”
March 5-7, a cast of 15 Lawrence students will perform this Irish dark comedy written by Martin McDonagh in the Cloak Theatre. Tickets are free for Lawrence students, $5 for other students and $10 for adults. Each night the performance will take place at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee at 3 p.m. March 7. The play is the collaborative senior project of Lawrence seniors Alex Bunke, Cait Davis, Allie-Marie McGuire and Peter Welch.
However, “The Pillowman” is not for everyone. Welch, the director of the play, said that “Pillowman” is “going to alienate people. I’m not inviting my grandparents. … This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.” Since swearing, violence and dark content are prevalent throughout the play, children and the faint of heart are advised not to attend.
Yet, for those who do attend, Welch emphasized that there are important aspects of the play that depend on its macabre nature. In fact, according to Welch, “The Pillowman” is really “about truth and morality in a sense – rightful guilt and wrongful accusations … it’s really a morality play.”
The protagonist, Katurian K. Katurian, is a fiction writer whose stories regarding child murders seem to have worked their way into real life. Katurian’s own haunting childhood experiences are slowly revealed as the police question him following these local child murders.
To bring Katurian’s fictional stories to life, Welch opted to use puppets to act some of the parts. This should add to the element of dark comedy that might otherwise be lost on viewers. Having studied abroad last fall in Ireland, Welch noted, “The Irish have this interesting sense about comedy. Culturally, they seem to have a light opinion about their hardship.” It is through this lens that the cast strives to highlight the comedic aspects of the play.
Welch encouraged viewers to “try their damndest to not get bogged down with the horror of what’s going on,” but rather to “laugh when they make a joke and feel okay about doing it.” The play is, after all, a dark comedy.
Even for those who do not grasp or appreciate the twisted humor, Welch has made an effort to “build a strong case for Katurian” so that the moral issues of the play are highlighted. In the end, Welch said if he did his job, a somewhat happy ending might not be out of the question.
After all, there must be a reason the pillowman, however nightmarish he may seem, has a smile on his face.