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The Pillowman serves dark humor on Valentine’s weekend

Mark Witte | Thursday, February 14, 2008

“The Pillowman,” presented by St. Edward’s Hall Players, opens tonight at Washington Hall and will run through Saturday. The play, written by Martin McDonagh, focuses on Katurian, a writer living in a totalitarian state who is being interrogated by police over his gruesome short stories. The following is a Feb. 12 interview with “Pillowman” star Stephen Iwanski, a junior.

Q. You play the role of Katurian, the protagonist of “The Pillowman.” What can you tell me about his character?

A. He’s kind of a very simple, very mundane person on the outside. He works at a slaughterhouse in some unnamed totalitarian dictatorship, but what he really loves to do, what he’s been doing since he was a kid, is writing these stories. It all started when his parents cultivated this environment for him of writing stories and being creative and so he’s written about 400 of these stories, only one of [which] has ever been published. And they’re not great literary masterworks at all, they’re kind of like gruesome Grimm Fairy Tales, even more gruesome than the regular ones. What is great about them though is that you can see his environment in them and they all involve the art of storytelling to some extent. They’re all self-consciously stories about stories … But the real other facet to him comes out in his relationship to his sister, who is mentally retarded … he tells her all these stories and she’s his only audience.

Q. I’ve heard rumors that this is one of Martin McDonagh’s darkest works to date, and even considered by some to be the darkest black comedy ever written. What should an audience member expect from the show?

A. One of the reviews I saw on television of the play, when it originally came out, said [“The Pillowman”] would make other black comedies pale grey in comparison. The great thing about the play is that there are literally moments where from one phrase of a sentence to the next you can actually be laughing hysterically and just throwing up in your mouth a little bit. That’s the kind of reaction I hope we can get out of it. You’re laughing, but you’re kind of guilty for laughing about it. What I would say to anyone coming to the show is don’t be afraid to laugh, because it is supposed to be very funny.

Q. What have you enjoyed most about working with the St. Ed’s Players?

A. The cast that we have is really quite an all-star cast. It’s a lot of people who I’ve worked with before and people I know from other shows and I respect them a lot from what they’ve done and I’ve seen their work in other things and it really is a great assembly of people. [It’s a] very small cast, total cast and crew is about 10 people, that is all the people who work on it. I really like working with them, but no slight to them, but I think the real pleasure has been in the actual text of the play itself. I have been in three Shakespeare plays and there are parts of this that are better written than Shakespeare could have even written it.

Q. If you had to sum up the experience of “The Pillow Man” in one sentence, how would you describe it?

A. It’s been the best nightmare I have ever had.

Q. The play is scheduled to open on Valentine’s Day? Is there any special or ironic reason for that choice?

A. I think we derive quite a bit of irony from that [opening on Valentine’s Day] because it’s not really a date play and its not a very romantic play either, but I think if you come to see it you will notice some costume decisions that may or may not be coincidental with Valentine’s Day.

Contact Mark Witte at mwitte@nd.edu