‘The Pillowman’ at Silver Spring Stage by Amanda Gunther

There are no happy endings in real life. Only the cold harsh slap of reality and how its disappointed you in the end. The dark and sinister black humor of Martin McDonagh comes to life in a twisted drama as Silver Spring Stage presents The Pillowman. Directed by Craig Allen Mummey, this story filled with gruesome ‘once upon a times’ takes place in a far-off totalitarian dictatorship where children’s stories are scrutinized by the authority and the littlest upset can set a cataclysmic chain of events in motion. McDonagh’s harrowing tale paints a macabre picture that really strikes a chord deep in the hearts of the on-lookers; wishing that these storytellers, these men of twisted tales weren’t so startlingly accurate in their descriptions.

Chad W. Fornwalt (Katurian) and Chris Daileader (Michal). Photo by Harvey Levine.
Chad W. Fornwalt (Katurian) and Chris Daileader (Michal). Photo by Harvey Levine.

Sound Designer Patrick Hughes enhances the nightmarish dreamscape with his eerie tunes; childlike, but distorted. They echo whenever Katurian begins to weave another one of his stories. This is particularly true for the music underscoring the title story, The Pillowman. Working in tandem with Lighting Designer Kevin Boyce, the pair creates shadows for the moments of story and lets the actors’ voices rise up through that darkness to really create a spine-tingling feeling in the atmosphere.

Director Craig Allen Mummey is a master storyteller, focusing intently on the core of the tale and ensuring that it comes to light in the most vivid way possible. The storyteller’s primary duty is to tell the story, or perhaps that is the storyteller’s only duty, but Mummey succeeds in this task having two sensational actors in the lead roles.

At first the two officers, Ariel (Kyle McGruther) and Tupolski (Lars Klores) are lackluster in their existence, banal, and slightly unfocused, but this is quickly cleared away by the time they reach act II. McGruther has an unstoppable rage churning within him that is missed in the first act but is fiercely present in the second and it comes bursting forth in a series of vocally and physically eruptive moments shared with Katurian. Klores, playing the stereotypical ‘good cop’ of the pair has a more subtle approach to his character, but makes him intriguing, especially when he begins to tease his partner, further riling Ariel’s temper.

While the Mother (Malinda K. Smith) Father (David Flinn) and Child (Kelsey Murray) characters are mostly silent, when they do speak it is with horrifically haunting undertones of being shades or robotic spirits calling from beyond the grave. Guised in mask during the retelling of the tales, Smith and Flinn become grotesque manifestations of villains, bordering on demonic souls who warp and twist these children’s tales into the stuff of nightmares. Murray, depending almost entirely on her gentle physicality to make her presence known, plays through the gut-wrenching tale of “The Little Jesus” in a most disturbing but captivating fashion.

The deeply dynamic relationship between Katurian (Chad W. Fornwalt) and his brother Michal (Chris Daileader) is the riveting cornerstone of this production. Daileader, playing a mentally challenged adult, adds a level of frustrating naiveté to their already quarrelsome fraternal bond. The intense moments shared between them oscillate from tender and understanding to explosive and detrimental, both actors bringing an extreme amount of emotional and physical display to the game. They work extremely well together having a deep understanding of the other’s role in the stage relationship and carry this show to a heightened success.

Daileader has mastered the mannerisms and gestures that make him appear challenged, his speech patterns accentuating this characteristic of his nature. The confusion that echoes across his face during moments of rare clarity is stunning and shocks the audience all the more every time he reveals something drastic. There is a delusional quality to his performance that makes it that much more interesting; drawing into the madness even further without even realizing it.

Kyle McGruther (Ariel) Photo by Harvey Levine.
Kyle McGruther (Ariel) Photo by Chris Daileader.

Fornwalt is a compelling actor with a fiercely commanding stage presence and you can hardly take your eyes off him. With a spellbinding fashion for telling stories; even those truly horrific in nature, he captivates the audience and has them hanging on his every word. Juxtaposing this serene, gentle storyteller against the spastic angry emotional side of his character creates a richly fulfilling performance that must be seen. Fornwalt carries a great deal of the emotional gravity, distributing it in such a fashion that new spikes and spirals of shock eek out of every moment and strike you cold. A stunning performance given by Fornwalt makes this show even more worth seeing, as his delivery of the gruesome is absolutely fascinating.

Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes, with one intermission.


The Pillowman plays through November 23, 2013 at Silver Spring Stage—10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 593- 6036, or purchased them online.

The Pillowman’ Opens This Friday, November 1st at Silver Spring Stage by Lennie Magida.



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