The Pillowman

Tony Nelson

The Pillowman opened to rave reviews on Broadway in 2005, and it was an unlikely hit. Martin McDonagh's play revolves around a writer living in a police state. When his pulpy stories of murder and mutilation start coming true in real life, he's dragged in for a prolonged interrogation by the authorities, followed by a few brutal and wrenching twists. It's an unorthodox and unstinting work, a couple of adjectives that could just as easily be applied to Frank Theatre, which stages it at the Guthrie. "I saw it in New York City," said Frank director Wendy Knox recently, during the first week of rehearsals. "I rarely direct plays that I saw before. I'm such a cynic. But I was so tickled because it's so wrong. There were all these blue-haired ladies there, and I was howling. It's so politically incorrect, so brutal and funny, you practically get a lobotomy while you're watching it. It's a psychological thriller, and you have to like having your intellect engaged, as well as seeing great theater." Knox has assembled a crackerjack cast, including locals Jim Lichtscheidl and Luverne Seifert. "Jim does all this stuff at the Guthrie that makes me die," Knox said. "Because I know he's really that twisted. On this one, I said, 'You're on a short comedy leash,' because he's so funny. And with Luverne, they should be illegal." Chris Carlson and Grant Richey round out the four-man cast, each a multifaceted performer in his own right. "It's a very smart play," Knox added. "Very complex, like a little hall of mirrors reflecting and repeating. It deals with censorship, freedom of speech, government control." When asked what it's like for such an independent director to be staging a show within the Guthrie institution, Knox lets out a loud and profound laugh. Then she points out the best parts, such as not having to pluck rodents from toilets or deal with propane heaters in an empty machine shop, unwelcome aspects of shows in recent Frank seasons. So, to sum up, the Guthrie: nice and comfy. The Pillowman: significantly less so. $18-$34. 7:30 pm Thu-Sat, 1:00 pm Sun. Guthrie Theater, 818 2nd St S, Mpls; 612.377.2224. Thu-Sun Sept 20-Oct 14.

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