By Myra Chanin
The Seeing Place is an actor built, driven and managed theatrical company designed to be a creative, supportive, artistic home base for performers who want to grow and hone their craft. The company, led by Founding Artistic Director Brandon Walker and Managing Director Erin Cronican, is forcefully committed to developing actors into thriving self-producers, honoring the process from rehearsal to performance; bringing organic, “fully lived” storytelling to New York and making theater accessible with affordable $15 ticket prices. They specialize in tough, contemporary dramas, presented two at a time in repertory. Their current duo – Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman and Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot are mind and emotion-boggling examinations of dysfunctional behavior that results in domination, torture and death.
The Pillowman, features a nuclear family in the worst sense of the “n” word: a Mom, Dad and two brothers reared in an uncontrollably explosive milieu where the parents physically and psychologically abuse the younger son in order to inspire the older son to greatness. Is this plan successful? Depends on what your meaning of it is. The result of this interfamilial meddling includes every domestic cide but sororicide. Want to know why? Nobody had a sister.
The Pillowman takes place in a dystopian state where Katurian, the protagonist older brother writes dark stories about murders of or by children. Only one of them has been published, but two curiously copycat infanticides attract the notice of the police. The play opens agonizingly with Katurian blindfolded, handcuffed and squirming behind a desk. His interrogation by good cop Tupolsky and bad cop Ariel is intermittently disturbed by the tortured screams of Katurian’s younger brother Michal. Michal is mentally slow but savvy enough to do what the police tell him to do and confess to what they want to hear — that he and Katurian committed the murders Katurian wrote about in his stories. The truth is even more dark and complicated! Michal did kill the children unaided, but Katurian has committed other murders that Michal knows about. Matricide, patricide, fratricide and sexual perversion ensue. Whew! And that only covers the first act.
The Clarion Theater’s intimate performing space totally connects the audience to the performers. The play’s eerie past, present and future villainy is ably co-directed by Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker who also stars as Katurian. Their spooky result sent chills up my spine. Daniel Michal Perez’s Michal was just amazing. I was convinced that his mental slowness and his curious speech defect were organic and amazed that someone with such defects was capable of memorizing so many lines. It wasn’t till I heard him speak as we were leaving that I realized that he actually was “all there.” He certainly fooled me. Two other equally impressive Pillowman performers were Logan Keeler as the frantic bad cop Ariel and, in an almost non-existent role, Brisa Freitas, as the child who was convinced and totally convinced me that she was Jesus!
Gidion’s Knot, directed by Brandon Walker, is about an 11 year old, Gidion, whose adolescent fantasies are as vicious and violent as the ravings posted by Adam Lanza on social media. Unfortunately, Corryn Fell (Erin Cronican), the mother of the maniac-in-training, cared more about browbeating and blaming his teacher, Ms. Clark (Susan Izatt), for Gidion’s suicide than admitting her responsibility for what he had become. During a previously scheduled parent-teacher conference, which Mom insisted on keeping even after her son’s demise, she bullied his teacher into reading out loud the composition that unnerved everyone in the school enough to suspend Gidion for a week. How bizarre was his composition? In my opinion, it was crazy enough to get Gidion committed to whatever the current PC term is for an insane asylum for the rest of his life. It described a war between students and faculty in which Gidion rolled up the entrails of teachers, including those of Ms. Clark, and delivered them to students who wove them into a teacher-entrail cloak which Gidion donned and thus declared himself the kind of poet his mother approved of.
To me Gidion’s Knot was a study in a maternal denial. The mom is an intellectual, a professor at Northwestern University who teaches ancient epic poetry and feels superior to Ms. Clark who was sensibly terrified by Gidion fantasies. That suspension from school was the reason for Gidion’s suicide struck me as nonsense. Actually his suicide averted a massacre and supplied this play with a happy ending!
Gidion’s Knot is only 70 minutes long. It contains a brilliant performance by Erin Cronican, who always convinces me that she actually is the character she is playing. As for Ms. Clark, I could not understand how she could read that horrible composition without screaming at the mother about who she’d made her son.
These are both interesting but difficult plays to watch. About base human emotions and human stupidity, they’re troubling and affecting. And I can’t think of any company that could perform them as well as The Seeing Place Theater does… despite the flaws in the writing. www.seeingplacetheater.com
Photos: Natasha Straley
The Clarion Theatre
309 East 26th St (at 2nd Ave.) NYC