Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Pillowman
Hedgerow Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's recent reviews of Rocky and Those with 2 Clocks

James Kern and Daniel Romano
Photo by Mark Garvin
From the Brothers Grimm to Disney, our most iconic children's stories share a dark and disturbing edge. Going back and reading "Little Red Riding Hood" or watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame can be surprisingly unsettling. British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh dives deep into that ominous blend of childhood innocence and horror with his 2003 play The Pillowman. The Hedgerow Theatre Company, with co-directors Megan Bellwoar and Marcie Bramucci, brings McDonagh's twisted black comedy to the stage just in time for the spookiest season of the year. Despite some flaws, the production is thoroughly captivating, thought provoking, and unexpected.

The Pillowman begins with author Katurian (James Kern) in the police interrogation room of an unnamed authoritarian state. Katurian initially believes he is being questioned because of some political message detected in one of his many short stories. He quickly discovers that Detectives Tupolski and Ariel, played by Pete Pryor and Stephen Patrick Smith, respectively, are actually looking into a series of child murders that bear a disturbing resemblance to Katurian's fictional tales. The stakes are raised when Katurian realizes that his developmentally delayed older brother Michal (Daniel Romano) has also been brought in for "questioning" by the sinister officers.

James Kern is electrifying, seamlessly shifting between innocent patsy and sinister narcissist. The connection Kern maintains with the audience–even as his motivations become increasingly disquieting–is positively uncanny. Daniel Romano excels in the role of Katurian's older brother Michal, effectively portraying a grown man with the perception and understanding of a child. Kern and Romano convey all the emotional complexity of a close fraternal relationship strained and bolstered by special needs and dire circumstances.

Pete Pryor and Stephen Patrick Smith are less successful in their roles. As interrogating police officers in an authoritarian state, Pryor and Patrick need to be relentlessly intimidating, but the pair are more "SVU" than KGB. Pryor plays Tupolski with an ambivalence that is appropriate to his role as good cop, but the role demands a malevolent undertone that never materializes. Ariel is the bad cop in the interrogation, but Patrick plays him as a reluctant muscle man who never really wants to hurt anyone. Even his physical attacks on the prisoner seem harmlessly half-hearted.

Despite its flaws, Hedgerow Theatre's The Pillowman is still an absorbing production that will make you laugh out loud and chill you to the bone. The first act is deliciously gripping and totally twisted. The pace slows in the second act, but it is still a thoroughly intriguing resolution. Experience The Pillowman for yourself, but bring a friend along too. That way you won't need to puzzle out this dark comedy's chilling implications on your own.

The Pillowman runs through October 31, 2022, at the Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Media PA. Tickets cost $20-$35. For tickets and information, please visit

James Kern: Katurian
Pete Pryor: Detective Tupolski
Stephen Patrick Smith: Detective Ariel
Daniel Romano: Michal

Megan Bellwoar and Marcie Bramucci: Co-Directors
Gauri Mangala: Stage Manager
Eilis Skamarakas: Assistant Stage Manager
Shannon Zura: Scenic Designer
Lily Fossner: Lighting Designer
Garrett Adams: Sound Design
Robin Shane: Costume Designer
Terri McIntyre: Fight Choreographer
Dylan Jamison: Draftsperson