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on April 7, 2005
Having been a fan of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, I couldn't wait to read his latest. I'd read some glowing reviews from the British premiere but was skeptical. Then, I read the play. While the set up seems from a police procedural, the twists, turns, and utter horror in the play are visceral and compelling.

A writer is being interrogated because the stories he writes often allude to the murder of children in hideous ways; children in the totalitarian state of his residence are now being killed in ways like the ones mentioned in the writer's work. Add to this the writer's mentally impaired brother and occasional acting out of his stories and you have complete, satisfying, darkly humorous and utterly theatrical play. The Pillowman is a beautifully ugly depiction of the the necessity of stories--to pain us, to heal us. It's quite a page-turner!
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on June 16, 2005
During my recent visit to London I was privileged to attend a show every one of my thirteen days there. After seeing everything from Taming of the Shrew to Pinter's Betrayal, the only show that made me say, "Wow that was incredible", was McDonough's The Pillowman. I find my self uttering the same phrase after reading a previous review of this amazing play. It's such a shame that people get so caught up in the superficial aspect of art that they fail to understand what makes it art in the first place. Shocking, twisted, dark as it may be, when it comes down to it, The Pillowman has nothing to do with murdering children. Any person with some sense can understand that it's about an artist's responsibility for their work and their protection under freedom of speech laws. Can an artist be held accountable for the feelings their work provokes? What if someone acts on those feelings...who is responsible then? I find it ironic that the very point the playwright is trying to get across mirrors the persecution he is facing now. To everyone... see this play. If you are unable to attend a production that's a shame because it's amazing live, but do the next best thing and pick up the script. It will change you.
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on June 6, 2007
I'm usually one of those irritating people who insist on reading the text before seeing the play or movie, but I'll admit that this was not the case. In fact, quite the opposite. I had seen the production at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago with it's incredible cast, fell in love with the piece, and consequently had to buy the play.

Martin McDonagh, a prized playwright with a biting and controversial wit for the stage, has absolutely nailed a generation piece with his play, The Pillowman. As anyone in theatre will tell you, it's all about the journey. Katurian has had an interesting journey, and his circumstances proved to be even more interesting at the beginning of the play. The cold, desolate, and unforgiving world he's a part of accuses him of a heinous crime, leaving him thinking it was merely his stories he wrote that encouraged other acts of crime...

He and his brother selectively retell their story through Katurian's stories that act as tiny plays-within-the-play and give the reader / audience member a clearer understanding of the context.

Kind of a side-note, if I may. I was fortunate enough to see the production at the Steppenwolf in Chicago because of my University's Theatre Department that paid for it, and there were about 120 of us that were in the audience that night. The Steppenwolf has a talk-back with the actors that we were very much looking forward to, ready to pick the minds of the actors who were fortunate enough to perform this biting piece.

One of the first questions that the artistic director was faced with from an older audience member was why people were laughing during the show... This sentiment was shared with about 3/4 of the talk-back audience of around 200 or so in the theatre, and the artistic director kind of got the 'deer-in-headlights' look about him as he explained a little about the piece to the patrons. In response to their question, one of our students approached it in the sense of irony and absurdity that ran rampant throughout the text. It's funny because it's so far-fetched, but at the same time so relevant to our generation and society that it was like looking at certain portions of ourselves on stage when looking at the characters.

Another little gem, one of the actors told us in the talk-back, was that one of the original actors playing Katurian had asked during rehearsals if there were more stories where these came from... Martin McDonagh was in the house that evening and told him simply, yes. The next day he brought in all over 200 stories that he based this play on and set them on the stage. Some were typed, some were hand-written, some on napkins and scraps of paper... but they were all there.

The stories are real, the journey that the audience and reader alike experience is real, and in the theatre, you couldn't ask for anything better.
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on February 11, 2008
The Pillowman (2003) - Martin McDonagh

I will start off by stating that I tend to not like reading plays. However, once in a while, I will come across one that reads well as literature. The Pillowman is definitely one of them. The dialogue is exciting, the plot is most definitely a page-turner, and it is quite funny (in a sadistic way, but more credit to McDonagh for pulling it off). What Mr. McDonagh deals with as his theme is the importance and power and necessity of telling a story, and he presents it in a multi-layered way that is entertaining and clever. Not only is there manipulation of time, but there is also the interesting notion that we are listening to a story of a bunch of characters that like to tell and listen to stories. The overall feel is definitely a little creepy.

McDonagh has a rather unique voice, and although he does not create amazing personalities, his style is entertaining enough on its own; the stylized dialogue is semi-poetic and is interesting to listen to. Let's just say there's a smooth flow to it.

This play is extremely dark and sadistic, yet hilarious in multiple parts (and generally funny thoughout). Balancing this tightrope act is not easy, but I would definitely say McDonagh does a good job of it. This play actually had me laughing out loud at points, which is relatively rare for me when reading plays. For example, even reading translations of Moliere almost never make me laugh, and he is considered arguably the greatest humorist we've ever had. Thus, overall, The Pillowman was a fun read (nothing extremely profound for me), and I would definitely reccomend it.
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on October 30, 2012
A fan of Beauty Queen of Leenane (don't we all seem to start there?) for the well-written and off-kilter play it is, I went on to other McDonagh plays. He's certainly creative and has compelling, complex characters that are in intense situations, so I've no doubt the play plays well (I've only read it.) and I would guess the characters are fascinating to portray for actors, and the evening of theatre powerfully compelling. All that being said, i doubt I'd want to watch this play for in the end, I felt miserable reading it. Tupolski is a murderer who's learned to joke about the deathly process. Ariel is a vicious self-aware vigilante with government backing, Katurian is twisted way beyond what we see on the surface and the innocent - Michal - mindlessly follows the art his brother creates. I didn't find the salvation of the stories, despite Katurian's description of how "uplifting" they are, to be anything worth the time. For the same reason, we don't see many productions of "The Little Match Girl" at Christmas.

So, I struggle to find the redeeming qualities, as I DO feel it is master craftsmanship at work here. There must be a key to this play in Tupolski's comment about discerning between what we've been TOLD happened and what ACTUALLY happened. (In that, it was easy to jump ahead to discern that The Little Jesus had not been carried out and Michal's death was, in that "straw that broke the camel's back" an error on Katurian's part.) For instance, are we to really believe Katurian's parents tortured Michal so Katurian would become a good writer? That reasoning is insane and I find no basis to believe it would be attempted, let alone successful. If true, the parents were unbelievably (beyond theatrical reason) off their rocker and Katurian justified in killing them, but the play is then, in my opinion, tainted; if not (and Katurian is creating a justification for his murder in that tale) then what are we to think of Katurian? I come away thinking he's a twisted sucker through and through, and let's find something more inspirational to see at the theatre.

Another reaction is it's nondescript dictatorship we find ourselves in. If this play is an indictment of censorship, it's heavy handed in my opinion. In the same way I feel Richard III is scarier if the setting in the White House than Nazi Germany, I think this play would feel more threatening if Tupolski and Ariel were acting surreptitiously or their actions were not seen as state sanctioned bullying. But...to each their view of how censorship is carried out. Perhaps Martin is just tired of people telling him he should write happy plays.

If you'd prefer Disney to the Brother's Grimm, stay away. If you're an H.P. Lovecraft fan...know Martin's not quite that macabre. For the rest of us, we just need to decide if the show is a car-wreck we can't help but rubber neck at, or if there really is deeper artistic merit.
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on December 30, 2011
I knew the minute the play ended that this would be my new favorite show. This is my 4th back-up copy... yes... I have bought this 5 times. after you loan it out twice and never get it back, you learn to just keep a spare around for emergencies. great condition, speedy delivery, terribly black humor and captivating story.
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on March 4, 2006
The title of this play makes it seem harmless enough, and to some I'm sure it was very good. However, that being said, if you are not a gore/horror fan, then you might not enjoy this play very much. At least 3 or 4 times throughout the play, a short story is told describing a gruesome murder, and a lot of descriptive adjectives are used to give the reader a mental picture of what is happening. Overall, the story is very good; the plot was well constructed, and I think the story was told in a very unique way. BUT you might want to give it a second thought if you are prone to squeamishness, throwing up, or nightmares.
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on May 16, 2013
"The Pillowman" keeps surprising the audience, but without the plot feeling contrived. This is essentially a story about stories, and the stories McDonagh tells are beautiful, if also profoundly disturbing. This play makes a wonderful read, and is also a wonderful vehicle for talented actors.
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on February 21, 2008
The Pillowman is a rare gem of theatric writing; smart without being pompous, funny without downplaying the horror of its setting, and poetically polished. The plot is simple: in a totalitarian state, Katurian Katurian is being interrogated (aka tortured) by the police in regards to a series of child-slayings that match perfectly to his own short stories.

What makes the play so good is the ebb as characters shift in our perceptions. Katurian moves from sympathetic to uncomfortably proud of his petty, splatterpunk-esque fables, and then back again. So too do the two interrogators, who revitalise the usual "bad-cop good-cop" genre. This isn't high-brow literature, however. Though the apparent theme is one of what is 'art' and 'censorship', deeper threads emerge on later thought.

Overall, a thoroughly pleasant read and a taut and well-made play, that - though perhaps not suitable for the whole family - should entertain all but the most flint-faced academic.
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on August 4, 2011
Martin McDonaugh tends to be a rather shocking playwright but his boldness is very admirable. "The Pillowman" is a terrific drama that asks its audience to question morality. I've never seen the play performed but plan on doing so as soon as the opportunity arises.
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