“A writer’s only job is to tell a story.” From the mouth of incarcerated author Katurian Katurian, these words could also describe Augustana College Theatrical Society’s (ACTS) job in its production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Not only must senior director Katelyn Kenney and her crew tell a story about Katurian, who is interrogated concerning the deaths of three children, but they also must tell many stories — his stories, to be exact — on which the grisly murders appear to be based.
As the artistic director of ACTS, Kenney said The Pillowman caught her eye last year during season selection.
She said she fell in love with the script because it was “beautifully written,” and immediately began working on it when the play was chosen for this fall. Four actors were cast before the school year ended, including senior Matt Stoffel, who plays Katurian, and junior Travis Clark, who plays his brother Michal. Stoffel and Clark join seven other performers in this notoriously unsettling play.
“It was something much darker in content, and I think that was something I wanted to explore as an artist,” Kenney said.
Sophomore stage manager Ashley-Marie Paladie says the show was a good choice, calling it “a black comedy.”
“Audiences each night will be pulled through a series of moments ranging from seriously disturbing to laugh-out-loud hilarious,” Paladie said.
McDonagh, the author of other controversial works like “Seven Psychopaths,” crafted a plot that is not necessarily easy for a college acting group to execute in a small black box theater. However, Kenney said she had a “clear vision” from the first reading of how she would tell Katurian’s stories within the story.
“The stories progress from silhouetted action to something more concrete,” Kenny said, adding that the crew had to use techniques that are fairly “tech heavy.”
Like all of ACTS’ performances, The Pillowman will take place in the Mary Harum Hart acting studio. The way the crew utilized the space, however, is anything but ordinary, according to Paladie. She said this show “flipped [the room] around” in order to use the wall that connects to the Edith Mortenson Center, as well as take advantage of entrances and wall fixtures.
“The acting studio provides a space malleable for the numerous ways a creative playwright might twist and mold a show’s set,” Paladie said.
An equally complex obstacle is the characters on which the play focuses. Katurian is deeply troubled as a result of his childhood and struggles to take care of Michal, who is developmentally disabled.
Policemen Ariel and Tupolski, played by junior Ben Kraft and sophomore Shane Francis, have the difficult task of playing good cop, bad cop with Katurian in the hopes of stopping the string of child murders. And sophomore Jeff Larsen, as the Pillowman, must evoke in the audience the sadness intended for this play without saying a word.
With a mere month of rehearsal in front of them, Kenney said the actors focused heavily on character development during the show’s early stages this summer.
“What Martin McDonagh did so well is capture these beautiful, intricate characters, so I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to play a character with depth and complexities,” Kenney said.
Although it’s possible audience members will leave thankful Katurian didn’t tell them bedtime stories, Kenney hopes they will appreciate the experience. The dark message and twisted humor of The Pillowman is out of the ordinary for Augustana, she said, and it is something both the crew and the audience might not have the opportunity to participate in again.
“I hope the darker content will stir things in people and make them think a little more,” Kenney said.
ACTS will perform “The Pillowman” Oct. 3 – 5 at 7:30 p.m.