Archive for July, 2013

The Pillowman Play – Horror & Redemption through Storytelling with Deft Shadow Puppetry

July 13, 2013 1 comment

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You are in an increasingly claustrophobic jailhouse interrogation room as two detectives (the classic Good Cop & Bad Cop) harshly question a puzzled writer Katurian about the recent deaths of three children as Austin’s 7 Towers Theatre Company begins it production of Martin McDonagh’s horrific yet ultimately uplifting play – The Pillowman.

Bob Kinney Words

Photos courtesy of 7 Towers Theatre

Seems like the gruesome killing of each toddler mirrors a fairy tale story the writer Katurian has created. A little boy, for example, dies when the killer chops off his toes. Katurian is proud of the 400 stories he has wrote – all now compiled by police in a storage box next to him in the torture room. He wrote the stories – a mix of the Grimm Brothers and Edward Gorey – but continues to insist that he did not commit any crime.

Angry at the writer’s denials, the detectives increasingly beat Katurian – both psychologically and physically. The writer then hears the screams of his older retarded brother Michael in an adjacent room. Michael soon joins his brother as the detectives leave the room.

The brothers then unfold the play’s storyline and how Michael – who was born without defect – came to be retarded. The first act concludes with an even more brutal horror that somehow ends up being an act of caring.

The Katurian Brothers Hug in Jail - Michael, right

The Katurian Brothers Hug in Jail – Michael, right

Bob Kinney Words

Photos courtesy of 7 Towers Theatre

The emotions I felt during the play’s intermission included revulsion at the brutal horrors I had experienced and heart-felt compassion for my fellow writer Katurian who loved what he wrote, as well as the fear at what would unfold in the second act. I simply could not connect this with any other play or film I have seen … and still can’t.

Everything I experienced in the first act got turned upside down in the second act. It was revelatory, uplifting and affirmed the importance of a storyteller telling a story.

In her program notes, director Christina Gutierrez writes – “Set in an unidentified totalitarian police state, the play asks difficult questions about freedom of speech and expression, and about the use of torture and force in police interrogations.”

This play is urgently timely given what our country is recently suffering – the revelation of our government’s secret acquisition of journalist’s phone call records – the ever-growing National Security Agency insidious snooping all due to the almost twelve-year-old Patriot Act occupation of the US – the government’s cruel jailing and prosecution of Bradley Manning and … now … its international bullying of sovereign countries as our “leaders” attempt to capture Edward Snowden. To me – Manning and Snowden are national heroes.

While The Pillowman has been performed several times since the Irishman McDonagh premiered it in 2003, the 7 Towers Austin production marks the first time the wonder of Shadow Puppet Theatre is deftly woven into the play.

“7 Towers is thrilled to partner with Austin-based Katie Rose Pipkin to bring the writer’s stories to life on stage,” Gutierrez writes. “Katie Rose has created stunning (shadow puppet) characters and landscapes which transform the interrogation room in which the play takes place into a canvas for the writer’s imagination.”

The Pillowman is being performed Friday through Sunday 8pm through July at the Austin Dougherty Arts Center.

The Wonder of Shadow Puppetry

The Wonder of Shadow Puppetry

See a brief video about the play

Much Thanks to the wonderful cast – Travis Bedard (Katurian) – David J. Boss (good detective Tupolski) – Stephen Price (bad detective Ariel) – Aaron Black (Michael Katurian) – Katie Rose and the shadow puppeteers Lindsay McKenna (captain), Chelsea Bunn, Sara Cormier and Becky Musser.

I will experience The Pillowman again later in July. I am certain that although I know its story I will discover new things.

Bob Kinney Words

Photos courtesy of 7 Towers Theatre

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Texas Kills 500th Prisoner

July 1, 2013 Leave a comment

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On Wednesday June 26 of 2013 at 6pm the State of Texas killed Kimberly Lagayle McCarthy – who had stabbed her neighbor several times and cut the victim’s wedding ring finger off in South Dallas back in 1997.

Bob Kinney Words & Photos

The event is memorable – in a sad kind of way. It was the 500th time that Texas has killed someone in our death house at Gainesville Prison since 1982. The last time Texas killed a woman was about three years ago when Carla Faye Tucker was executed.

Fox Austin News Video Report Austin Vigil June 26 in 2013

As I noted in my meditation at the Spring 2012 board meeting of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship – “Every time the State of Texas kills someone – supposedly on the behalf of we citizens – a group of us gather at the south entrance to the State Capitol in downtown Austin for a peaceful witness usually at 6pm when the lethal needle filled with pentobarbital enters the prisoner’s body. I have been taking part in the vigil for many executions as a personal way to say “No. You do not speak for me.”

“Sometimes the husband of a woman who was murdered shows up at the vigil. Bill had protested the execution of his wife’s murderer. A few months ago Texas killed mentally retarded Marvin Wilson – the victim of Texas’s unique system for defining ‘retardation’ that relied on the character of Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.” Steinbeck’s son personally asked Texas Governor Rick Perry to cancel the execution. A few years ago our vigil for the East Texas man who chained a black man to his truck and drug him to his death took place while Georgia was killing Troy Davis.”

Texas’s 500 executions leads the US and most foreign nations by far since the 1974 US Supreme Court decided to reinstate capital punishment– only Saudi Arabia and North Korea come even close to us. Nice Company, eh?

US Runner-up is the State of Virginia with 110 executions.

With every death I continue to ask –
“What don’t you understand about
‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’”?

blog Texas 500th b 7.1.13

Other Media Links

The Experiences of a Texas Death House Chaplain

Werner Herzog’s stunning documentary “Into The Abyss”

The great director Werner Herzog begins his chilling documentary “Into the Abyss” standing in the graveyard of the Huntsville prison in East Texas. Huntsville is where the State of Texas kills people by the hundreds. Behind him is an ocean of crosses – no names identify the graves – prison i.d. numbers do. Executed persons are buried there when no one claims the body.

Herzog’s film explores a triple homicide in the gated community of Conroe eleven years ago when two teenagers shot two of their high school friends to get a gate key. They entered the compound, went to the house of one of the dead teen’s mom, shot her and took her red Camaro convertible.

The film is a mixture of heartfelt interviews and gory police crime video. Herzog interviewed Michael Perry ten days before his death in 2010. The life of Jason Burkett, the second teen, was saved by the killer’s father who had testified what a rotten father he had been. The father said his worst experience in all his years behind bars was being chained to his son on a prison bus. Two jurors took pity and the son got life without parole.

Most wrenching in the film is Herzog talking to the former head of the Death Squad at Huntsville. The leader of a 12-person team had supervised the killing of about 120 prisoners. He lauded his team for getting the job done within ten minutes but something happened when he supervised the 1998 killing of Karla Faye Tucker – the first woman to be killed by the state since 1863. He tells Herzog that he fell to the floor and began shaking when she died. The burly East Texas man quit his job the next day and lost his state pension – he could no longer kill.

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