Dooley’s Players’ radio performance “Pillowman: On the Airwaves” is not for the faint of heart. This dark comedy, the first of its kind to be broadcast on Emory’s student-run radio station WMRE, pulls viewers in to piece together a disturbing murder mystery.
A collaboration between WMRE and Dooley’s Players, “Pillowman” follows the interrogation of crime novelist Katurian (Angela Yang, 20C), who is tried for the murders of children who die in the same ways as the fictional characters in her stories. The entire play, clocking in at around two hours, is set in a totalitarian state’s police interrogation room. Detectives Ariel (Roz Sullivan-Llovet, 19C) and Tupolski (Anna Harrison, 21C) are not exactly heroes; they do not shy away from cruel means of getting information, blurring the lines between who and what are right and wrong.
The production was helmed by trained actor and first-time director Peter Buzzerio (21C) and featured a predominantly female cast. It ran from Feb. 7 to 9.
Written by playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, the play is reminiscent of his other works such as “In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — films known for their dark atmosphere. Buzzerio put his own spin on the play by broadcasting it over the radio, adjusting pronouns — the play was originally written for an all-male cast — and deleting one “offensive” scene. The choice to broadcast the play on WMRE came when Buzzerio realized “student theater on Emory’s campus doesn’t have a lot of spaces for [them] to perform in.”
“A thing we always are talking about is finding ways to have theater on campus without using traditional theater spaces,” Buzzerio said.
The production was an artistic experiment planned by Buzzerio to restage traditional theater. One of his inspirations was the podcasting series “Homecoming,” a found-audio political thriller written by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, now adapted into a television series starring Julia Roberts.
“I wanted to share an interesting and cool theatrical experience for Emory’s student body,” Buzzerio said, who has radio experience hosting his weekly WMRE show, “The Weekly Buzz.”
The play’s radio format could not have been more timely, considering podcasts’ growing popularity.
The students omitted a scene from the original script was omitted because it was “too offensive” and used “slurs [towards the mentally handicapped] when it didn’t need to,” stage manager Jordan Anschutz (20C) said.
“We didn’t really want to have to deal with the implications of that,” Anschutz said.
The phenomenal cast helped bring the play to life. Detective Ariel’s role adds a thrilling touch of madness to the interrogation scenes. Her rapid-fire, expletive-filled questions and angry outbursts towards Katurian made for a good listen, although I turned down the volume just a tad. Likewise, Katurian’s touching dialogue with her mentally handicapped brother, Michal (Nestor Lomeli, 21C), tugged at the heartstrings when she opened up about their shared childhood trauma and abuse. These scenes produced heartbreaking moments filled with innocence and vulnerability, which provided a well-needed lull between the harsher exchanges between Katurian and the detectives.
Despite the medium’s limitations, the cast members’ performances were lively. Buzzerio insisted on physical acting while recording the show to drive home the characters’ authenticity. Actors made facial expressions, stood up, played with props and banged on tables. In fact, the show’s sound and design were all put together by Buzzerio, who said he learned from Theater Studies Lecturer and Theater Emory’s Resident Lighting and Sound Designer Brent Glenn.
“The sound effects were really terrific,” Glenn said. “Radio play is the purest form of theater. The less we see, the better it is … You can’t lie with the voice.”
One of Buzzerio’s main interests in directing the performance included finding “people who were able to provide an interesting timbre.”
The tightly knit group that put the play together consisted of friendly theater lovers. In the studio before the microphones went live, ’80s rock classics played while everyone prepared. Some of cast performed an “Italian run” of the script (a fast run-through), dancing and jumping up and down. Others sat on their phones and had casual conversations on the sofa. Buzzerio’s “what’s on your mind” attitude made the studio environment a comfortable space to relax in.
Harrison gave an enthusiastic “Hell yes” when asked if she would continue to follow Buzzerio on his directorial journey to reimagine theater at Emory.
“It’s been a good time, trying something new,” Harrison said. “I feel everyone’s a bit fish-out-of-water, but I think it’s worth it.”
When asked if he would direct radio again, Buzzerio said,“It’s a lot of technical elements…it’s challenging to manage all these things.” In another interview with Brent Glenn he concluded that “directing is hard,” but that this would not stop him on his journey.
“It was literally a complete artistic experiment for me,” Buzzerio said. “This is restaging traditional theater.”