Dramashop Closes Inaugural Season with "The Pillowman"

Categories:  Theater    Events
Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 1:22 PM
Dramashop Closes Inaugural Season with The Pillowman by Ben Speggen


Nine months ago Dramashop opened the doors to its inaugural season with Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty,” a love story about the heart-crippling nature of relationships. That’s all well and true except for one thing: Dramashop, well, technically doesn’t have doors. 

Embracing the true bohemian nature of off-Broadway theater, Dramashop performed in various locations best suited for individual productions over the span of its first season. In fitting fashion, the troupe returns to the Schuster Theatre—the space where it held its inaugural production—to close the doors on its first season with Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman.”

The stirring tale of Katurian, a young writer, captured and interrogated by police officers in a totalitarian state for crimes he’s unaware of, “The Pillowman” features an Orwellian-esque society spiced with bits of Kafka and Camus, yielding a Stygian story where audiences find themselves laughing at the absurd yet dry humor McDonagh’s known for.

“To close out the season with this, we wanted to give people a sense of what’s to come from Dramashop,” says “Pillowman” Director Domenic Del Greco. “A lot of our shows this season gave a taste of that. We touched on the contemporary relationship with ‘reasons to be pretty.’ ‘Pillowman’ touches on ideas of abuse in a home, it touches on whether we imitate art or art imitates us, it touches on ideas based on whether you watch a violent movie, are you going to go out and commit a violent crime.” 

That issue, says Del Greco, who takes his first seat in the Dramashop director’s chair, permeates today’s society, and exploration of that topic fits in with what Dramashop aims to do. 

“Our mission statement is to challenge and to educate and to provoke, and I think ‘Pillowman’ does that. It’s very hard to think about and hard to watch at times because these are things people aren’t really used to thinking about or dealing with on a day-to-day base.”

Del Greco explains that Dramashop, in its efforts to fill a void in a community lacking alternative productions to the more mainstream offerings, is targeting Erie’s 20- and 30-somethings with this production, an audience who he feels may be more comfortable considering dark societal issues through contemporary comedy. 

But drawing a younger crowd isn’t all Dramashop’s managed to do with “The Pillowman.”

Michael Haas is best found behind a screen. Be it his smartphone, his laptops, or his tablet, the tall, lanky 20-year old is never offline.

“I’m always a fan of getting really involved in everything, really,” says the director of social media at Epic WebStudios. “I’m not the type of person that likes to sit by and watch things happen—I want to become part of it.”

So from behind the screen to on the stage, Haas is making his Dramashop debut. After exchanging emails with Dramashop Artistic Director Zach Flock, Haas decided to stop by the auditions to offer support. He soon found himself filling out paperwork and preparing to do a reading. Featured questions were: “How many plays have you been in?” and “Which plays are most relevant to this production?” Haas had an easy time answering, since prior to this, he’d only be in one production. 

But being the full-throttle, all-or-nothing kind of guy that he is, Haas wrote down “Little Women” and took to the stage. 

“We were in auditions, and he came in and read, and he just had this tone to him that was just youthful enough—he comes off as soft-spoken and very artistic. And that’s what we were looking for,” Del Greco says of Haas, who landed the lead role of Katurian, the author whose stories may be inspiring gruesome crimes in the city. “His read was great, so we gave it to him, and we surrounded him with all these veterans, so he’s getting a great experience too.”

Those veterans include Flock and Matt Fuchs as detectives Tupolski and Ariel, respectively, and Jasse Camacho as Katurian’s brother Michal. Nicole Dohoda, Keefer Kopco, Khadija Djellouli, and Brennan Staaf round out the ensemble. Haas credits his director and the cast with helping him through the process, saying that from learning “downstage” to how best to get into a character, he’s thoroughly enjoying unplugging from the World Wide Web and plugging into performance art.

Del Greco, who also serves as director of education and outreach, says that cultivating art and theater in Erie by encouraging those new to acting promotes diversity and encourages growth in the community. And while “The Pillowman” marks the closing of Dramashop’s inaugural season, it is hardly the end, as the company is already lining up productions for its second season. 

For now, all sights are set on delivering the 2003 Tony-Award winning production to Erie. And with a talented core of people behind the scenes and on the stage comprised of theater veterans as well as budding newcomers like Haas, Dramashop has a bright future in contemporary theater in Erie wherever it opens its doors.

Ben Speggen can be contacted at bspeggen@eriereader.com

The Pillowman runs from June 7 to June 9, and June 14 to June 16. All shows start at 8 p.m. and are held at Schuster Theatre, 620 Sassafras St. For more information and to purchase tickets early, visit dramashop.org. 

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