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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Let's Talk Murder, Shall We?

The tagline reads, "Two siblings. Three child murders. One totalitarian state." The Constructivists is starting their first season with a bang, that's for sure.

All photos by Christal Wagner Photography. Jaime Jastrab, Rose Grizzell, and Rob Schreiner.

Martin McDonagh's dark comedy, The Pillowman, may not be widely known, but it is scarcely forgotten. The piece follows short story writer Katurian K. Katurian through a series of unorthodox interrogations, with good cop Tupolski and bad cop Ariel. Her brother Michal is being detained next door. Three children have gone missing, and are turning up murdered in the exact fashion described in her tales.

The gruesome psychological thriller is laced with vivid storytelling, and Jamielyn Gray's direction forces audiences to face the uncomfortable. It's brilliant. Placing the unsettling story in the up close and personal Underground Collaborative replicates the inherent discomfort of a cell.

Jaime Jastrab, Rob Schreiner, and Rose Grizzell.

The set and lighting, by Sarah Harris and Ellie Rabinowitz respectively, are the right combination of bleak and cold, with some artistic choice. The stage is already so small, and then Harris's design seems to cut off the entire back corner of space. Why? Then, the walls split and the corner is revealed; suddenly, there is a separate room for storytelling, and the previous walls act as a proscenium of sorts. It frames the stories within the story. With Rabinowitz's design featuring stark contrasts between the two realms, the overall concept is stellar.

Rose Grizzell.

It should be noted that the leading role of Katurian was written to be male. However, through a special arrangement with Martin McDonagh, Gray obtained permission to cast Rose Grizzell. Grizzell not only steps into a realm of androgyny to stay true to the script, but being female, the same text takes on new meanings. Lines that may have been initially interpreted as overbearing now take on a nurturing role.

Logan Milway and Rose Grizzell.

One particularly interesting shift by gender swapping the role is the relationship between Katurian and her brother, Michal (Logan Milway). Katurian is the provider and guardian for Michal, who is damaged from a horrid past, despite being the younger of the two siblings. Seeing this played out between a man and a woman places new emphasis on the uniqueness and vulnerability of their bond.

Rob Schreiner, Jaime Jastrab, and Rose Grizzell.

The entire company is well-cast and strong in their own stylings, but the most dynamic character is easily Rob Schreiner's Ariel. Ariel begins as a hypermasculine personification of police brutality, but as Katurian's history is revealed and she and Ariel connect on morally grey grounds, Schreiner softens. The tone of the entire production shifts around Schreiner's change of pace. It is through Ariel's perspective and experiences that audiences are forced to reconsider which actions can be reconciled, and which cannot.

By selecting this play, the Constructivists have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Milwaukee area. It is engaging in the most vile of ways, and hilarious at the moments most lacking in light. This performance is no passive entertainment, but rather an experience to be shared among company and patrons. The Pillowman runs at the Underground Collaborative through November 10th.

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