In addition to the excellent Lives of Others, I caught The Pillowman with a group of Americas Future Foundation kids last week. Andrew Sullivan saw it too… and reveals that the guy in the background who seemed vaguely familiar under all that makeup was, in fact, his boyfriend Aaron. I was a little worried at the outset since, at the performance I saw, the lead actor seemed not to be fully inhabiting the role for the first half of the first act, but he was stellar once he got into it, and I’d highly recommend the play as a whole, even with the little stumble out of the starting gate.
I was a little surprised, though, to find Andrew—and, presumably AFF—giving the play such a heavily political reading. Sure, the setting is a police interrogation room in an unnamed dictatorship, but (as the protagonist-writer, Katurian Katurian keeps insisting about his own work) I don’t think this is because it is centrally making any sort of political commentary. The police investigators in charge of questioning Katurian may spin their share of deceptions, but they’re just two more unreliable narrators in a play filled with them; the primary rationale for making them agents of a dictatorship seems to be that it’s necessary for the climactic finale, which I shan’t spoil here. There are hints of Kafka (Katurian, casting about for the proper term, remarks that his situation is “somethingesque”) but the general sensibility of it is more Borges (by way of Stephen King). In other words, I don’t think it’s using the case of this storyteller to say something about dictatorship or torture; I think it’s using the frame of a dictatorship practicing torture to say something about storytelling. Where Andrew drew the lesson that power debases truth by reducing it to an arbitrary competition between stories, my read was that the power is in the stories. But go see it and decide for yourself.