Theater Review: An electric, gruesome and morbidly hilarious story

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Vermont Theater Company's latest production is a tale of four disturbed men and the people they victimize. The play toys with the audience, provoking sympathy and outrage. It never quite becomes clear who the good guys are, or what goodness is possible for these humans. The story is electric, gruesome, and morbidly hilarious.

Watching "The Pillowman" is a bit like being gaslighted. The audience is flung into compelling, gut wrenching narratives, finding out moments later that the truth is something else entirely.

The story begins with the interrogation of Katurian K. Katurian (Brandon Peterson). He writes short stories about child murder, and now some of his stories have become true. Katurian lives in a police state. He can only leave the dungeon we find him in by convincing his holders that he doesn't deserve to die.

Fittingly, the play shares its name with one of Katurian's stories. He tells it from memory to calm his brother, who is emotionally and intellectually damaged from years of torture. The Pillowman is a hero of some kind. He is supernatural. We're not sure whether he's a savior or a murderer - and neither is the Pillowman. He weeps constantly at what he is called to do, but sees no better way. Eventually he disappears without a trace.

Brandon Peterson as Kiturian delivers a believable and charming performance in a difficult role. He is kind and supplicating yet somewhat unhinged.

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His brother Michal is played by Harral Hamilton. Michal is traumatized but at times insightful. Hamilton's performance exaggerates both of these qualities. Hamilton's Michal carries years of torture in the way he holds his shoulders, wrings his hand, and gnashes his lips together.

The cops in "The Pillowman" make their roles clear quickly. Tupolski (Bill Wieliczka) plays by the rules, his partner Ariel (Cameron Cobane) loves to torture people. Tupolski is hard to shake. He doesn't have a personal issue to settle, he's just there to do his job. He's the least violent character, yet somehow completely unlikeable in the end.

Despite his love for torture, we come to see the warmth and humanity in Ariel. He has a moral compass. He wants to help people. He wants to help children avoid what he went through, and retribution for what was done to him. He is at times explosive and intimidating but ultimately sympathetic. Cobane's performance is dynamic, and his extensive experience with stage combat is put to good use.

This is Justin Fetterman's directorial debut with the Vermont Theater Company. He began directing in college. In addition to directing, Fetterman composed original music for the production.

In addition to acting, Cameron Cobane produced alongside Michelle Page and designed and constructed the set.

"The Pillowman" continues performances Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Hooker-Dunham Theater.


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