Savannah Actor’s Theatre will open its 2008 main stage season on Feb. 14 with The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. To say this play isn’t exactly light fare is an understatement.
“This is a very interesting play,” director Sheila Lynne says. “It’s theater at its darkest and most controversial. It’s certainly not warm and fuzzy.”
The play is about a writer living in a totalitarian state who is called in for questioning about his short stories. “We learn through the course of the play why he has been called in and why his brother is being held,” Lynne says.
The writer has written many short stories about child murders, and one has been published. The story mirrors an actual murder of a child in the community and the officers who interrogate the man want to know why.
“At the base of it is storytelling,” Lynne says. “It’s a very well-written play. It’s very sharp. There are moments of very dark humor and there are very heart-rending scenes and tragedy.”
This is Lynne’s second time directing a show at SAT. She also directed Marie and Bruce, a play about a marriage falling apart.
“I like to challenge the audience as opposed to being entertaining,” Lynne says. “I really do love working with the Actor’s Theatre. We like to showcase plays that aren’t traditional musicals or happy comedies.”
In choosing plays, Lynne reaches into the darkest corners of her psyche. “The Pillowman will definitely challenge your expectations,” she says. “It’s not a children’s tale and is definitely for ages 18 and over.
“It’s also about parenting children,” Lynne says. “What scars are we left with after our parents unintentionally harm us?”
The play mirrors reality, Lynne says. “There are bad things that happen to children,” she says. “In doing the research for this play, I started paying attention to headlines. Nothing in the play is more horrible than actual crimes that happen. The more I looked at this stuff, the more I saw that McDonagh didn’t have to look far for material.”
The play features guest artist Joseph J. Baez in the title role. Baez met SAT’s executive director Ryan McCurdy in Charlotte, N.C.
“Charlotte is where my professional career started,” Baez says. “I’m primarily based in musical theater. For me to do a play, it has to be juicy.”
The Pillowman is that and more. “I’m very happy to come here,” Baez says. “I’m happy to take part in Ryan’s company that is growing so fast.
“Ryan has always done crazy, off-the-wall productions that actually require the audience to do some work,” he says. “I love that.”
McDonagh is an Irish playwright whose work is often dark and raw, Baez says. The Pillowman could take place in any city.
“There’s no period, no sense of place,” Baez says. “It could be in Savannah, it could be anyplace.
“The officers are trying to quash the author’s work,” he says. “The play also touches on religious tones. These are dark places we’re asking the audience to go to.”
There are touches of humor, and the play is well worth seeing, Baez says. “Embrace this and come out and have a thought-provoking evening,” he says. “We hope when the audience walks out, they’ll ask questions.”
The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh is presented Feb. 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. at The Savannah Actors Theatre. General admission $15 and senior/student/military $10 with ID. Tickets available at savannahactorstheatre.org and through the box office. Call 232-6080 or e-mail