Cascades Theatrical Company is probably best known for staging 20th century classics, like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, which just wrapped up an extended run. But, starting late in 2014, with a terse production of the intense 2009 Tony Award-winning God of Carnage, CTC has taken a gamble—and is hoping to push some of its patrons into more adventurous and dark zones. The theater is hosting a series of three "black box" productions, each tucked between its more elaborate and mainstream productions.
Held in the same space, these black box productions are shorter runs (just one weekend) and staged in a more dressed-down production. Moreover and most notably, CTC has chosen scripts for these productions that are a bit more daring and dark.
The first play, God of Carnage, is an uncomfortable examination of modern-day parenting. And its third out of the three, Venus in Fur, is a sexual and playful script that could make 50 Shades of Grey blush.
This middle play, which has a four consecutive night run this weekend, is The Pillow Man. If that title sounds familiar, it is because surprisingly the play was also staged at Volcanic Theatre late last year. (The backstory for the reasons for these competing productions, depending on who tells you the "facts," has enough drama to stage its own production about crosstown theater rivals, but for our purposes, let's focus on the current production at CTC.)
The Pillowman is a dark story about a short story writer, Katurian, in an unnamed totalitarian state. Some of his stories involve the gruesome torture and murder of young children—and, even stranger, as Katurian quickly finds out in Scene One, some of the more gruesome fictions seemingly have become fact as three young children have been murdered. Written by U.K. playwright Martin McDonagh, in 2005 it was nominated for a Tony.
At two-plus hours running time, the rehearsal I attended was tedious at times, re-trending some of the more obvious themes. It is, after all, gruesome subject matter—a story about child abuse and three brutal murders of young children. But it is easy to get caught up in those gratuitous moments. Instead, the real charm is recognizing that the story itself is about storytelling and, moreover, in spite of the dark mood, there are moments of true tenderness, especially in the scene between Katurian and his mentally and emotionally disabled brother.
Also noteworthy is the character Ariel, a gorilla of a police officer. The character—extremely well played by Brad Thompson—is a menacing presence on stage, but also adds a somewhat perversely welcome comic tone.
And, most broadly, CTC's black box series is an immensely welcomed addition to Central Oregon's theater scene, venturing past the tried-and-true into bold new theater and challenging theater-goers to stretch their comfort zones.
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood
7:30 pm, Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 19-21
2 pm, Sunday, Feb. 22