Controversial Tacoma Little Theatre production makes it to national competition

“When you start talking about little kids getting killed and then you make a joke about something else entirely … people get upset.”

That’s director Blake R. York talking about “The Pillowman,” a Tacoma Little Theatre production.

Though it’s controversial, the play has swept up awards in the American Association of Community Theatre (AAACT) competitions this year at the state and regional levels and heads to the The National Community Theatre Festival in Pennsylvania June 18.

The Little Theatre will compete there against 11 other theaters, and the cast and crew are asking for donations to help fund their journey to the national competition.

“The Pillowman” is strong because it’s controversial, said Chris Serface, the Little Theatre’s managing artistic director.

“It’s a show that makes you question, ‘If you laugh at something, am I a bad person for laughing at what I just saw on stage?’ … It makes you question yourself and your interactions with society,” Serface said during a recent interview with The News Tribune.

Since its first release at the Little Theatre about a year ago, “The Pillowman” has shocked, amused, disturbed, excited and enraged Tacoma audiences.

“We had reactions from people that said, ‘This is the best piece of theater I’ve seen in 20 years in this town,’ to people who said, ‘I’m leaving at intermission because this isn’t right,’” Serface recounted.

The play centers on Katurian, a fiction writer in an unnamed totalitarian state, who writes dark stories about child murders which then begin to happen in reality. The police become suspicious and interrogate both the writer and his brother.

“Most people that first watch it are like, ‘That’s really dark,’ but it’s not just a really dark show, it’s also very funny,” York said.

The author, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, is known for dark comedy in his offbeat and unconventional pieces.

McDonagh also wrote, directed and produced the critically acclaimed film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” about a woman who puts up three large billboards to bring attention to the lack of progress in her daughter’s murder investigation.

The Little Theatre’s production of “The Pillowman” already has earned a number of awards, including for best overall production and individual cast and crew, including York, who won Best Director at the regional competition in Spokane.

The judges there also invented a new prize for Best Ensemble Cast specifically for The Little Theatre’s production because, according to York, “they couldn’t essentially decide who to give it to.”

The AAACT competitions take place every two years, and community theaters compete at the state, regional and national levels. At each competition, a panel of three theater professionals judge the production, focusing on how well different aspects work together to create a fully realized show.

For the competitions, the play must be cut so that it does not run over 60 minutes, the set must take no more than 10 minutes to set up and take down, and the entire play must be performed within a 10-foot by 10-foot stage.

Serface described “The Pillowman” as “theater you didn’t know you wanted to see,” and explained why he thought it was a good piece for competition.

“It is theater that challenges you and takes you out of your comfort zone. It’s what you want theater to do. It should make you stop and think and discuss with other people,” Serface said.

To donate

People wishing to donate to help offset costs of the Tacoma Little Threatre’s trip to nationals can contact Chris Serface, the Little Theatre’s managing artistic director at 253-272-2281 or visit the Little Theatre’s website at www.tacomalittletheatre.com.