Richard III at The Shakespeare Theatre
The Pillowman at Studio Theatre
What makes someone bad? Deliberately killing all of their family in order to gain the crown? Composing fictional stories outlining gruesome ways kill children? Are those things bad? What if you do it with a smile on your face? What if you do it because it’s the only way you know?
Richard, as played by Geraint Wyn Davie, is a charmer. Within minutes of Shakespeare’s political tale, the audience is wrapped around his finger. It’s hard not to love him, even though he talks about killing his brother as easily as he might talk about reading a book. His charm is not just outward. He has so charmed everyone around him that no one views him as a threat. The set, designed by Lee Savage, alerts us in a batman like manner that we are in the enemy’s layer. The whole set is tilted including the stair cases which I assume was a fun adjustment for the actors. As the play goes on it is hard not to like this lovable evildoer. He is not written sympathetically and yet when he reaches the end of his ropes and eventually his life the audience knows they will miss watching the joy and glee in which he pursued his bad deeds.
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh frequently writes about lovable bad boys. His plays have the brilliant ability to be bloody, dark, gruesome, upsetting and side splittingly funny. The Pillowman was written as a frame for ten disturbing short stories. A young writer in a totalitarian regime is pulled into the police station and questioned in his responsibility in the deaths of a number of children. It seems the manner in which they were killed was reflected in many of the short stories that he wrote. The story takes many twists and turns and we see all of the characters, the writer, his brother and the two policemen, become ‘good’ then ‘bad,’ horrifying then sympathetic. Interspersed the short stories about torturing and killing children are shown as the stage opens up from the smallness of the cell to being a glowing and twisted fairytale theater. The play leaves you questioning responsibility towards evil acts and wondering what leads to making a person ‘bad,’ and if that split of good and bad are even relevant since we are all filled with both impulses simultaneously.