Variations Theatre opts for something in black

By Kevin Zimmerman

For its 2015-16 season Variations Theatre Group is heading to the dark side.

Next week its production of “The Pillowman” — a story that juggles artistic freedom within a police state with a series of grisly child murders — opens at the Chain Theatre in Long Island City.

Then in October a new version of “Wait Until Dark” — the tale of a blind woman living alone in a basement apartment being terrorized by a gang of criminals — begins performances.

Variations’ Artistic Director Kirk Gostkowski realizes dark can be a hard sell when audiences seek out entertainment options, but he believes he can close the deal with his choices, especially “The Pillowman.”

“I’ve been sitting on this one for a while,” Gostkowski said. “It’s a risk, but if we don’t take risks, what are we doing this for?”

In Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s piece, police in a totalitarian state interrogate a writer about his stories and the similarities they have with a recent spate of gruesome child murders.

The play is basically three long scenes of the back-and-forth between the police and the writer.

For the actors the trick is mastering the rapid, rat-a-tat dialogue that reveals one disturbing detail after another, Gostkowski said. But the steady, slow burn of tension is interrupted throughout the proceedings with the blackest of comedy.

“The worst moments, which happen about 15 times, are undercut with humor,” Gostkowski said. “It’s very funny in a dark way, and you hear the audience laughing. The audience needs that relief.”

Although it was first produced in 2003, Gostkowski thinks the play, with its examination of nature vs. nurture and questioning of artist responsibility, has a lot to say to today’s audiences.

“It’s so dark, and so real,” Gostkowski said. “And it’s really relevant again, dealing with how art influences people to do terrible things.”

Once “The Pillowman” is up and running, Christina Perry will don a blindfold to begin rehearsing her part in “Wait Until Dark.”

“I’ll probably be black and blue by the time it’s done,” Perry said.

Perry plays a recently blinded woman left alone to fight off a trio of thugs who invade her apartment looking for their drug stash.

The 1967 film, which starred Audrey Hepburn, was based on a 1966 stage production.

Variations’ version has been newly adapted and now takes place in the 1940s.

And that stash? Instead of a doll filled with heroin, the bad guys are after a toy crammed with diamonds.

If you go

“The Pillowman”

When: Sept. 18 through Oct. 3, Wednesday-Sunday at 8 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 2 pm

Where: The Chain Theatre, 21-28 45th Road, Long Island City

Cost: $18/advance, $20/at door

Contact: (866) 811-4111

Website: www.variationstheatregroup.com

Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4541.

More from Around New York