February 18, 2020

As far as a student production goes, there was a lot of hard work done. That is evident. However, there is so much that needs to be reworked, cleaned up, re-blocked and practiced.

The effort that UCCS students put into their work is unmatched. This knowledge should affect the way students watch the UCCS production of “The Pillowman.” With that being said, I hold a high expectation for everything in the arts, and I think it is because of this high expectation that I found myself incredibly disappointed.

“The Pillowman” tells an intriguing story about an author named Katurian, played by performing arts major Salvador Placensia, whose stories depict the gruesome deaths of children, and who finds himself under investigation after three children went missing or were found dead in the same ways that the characters in his stories died.

The play really tells a fascinating story and has great elements, my favorite being Katurian’s story about children being convinced by a character called the Pillowman to kill themselves before they grow up to suffer terrible events, eventually leading to an adult suicide. Interesting, right? This is only one small story within the bigger story, and it is quite hard to explain, unless you go see the play.

However, the performance was the longest three hours of my life. The acting could have been more refined; to put it nicely, these student actors have quite a bit more to learn before they graduate.

I do not think the failures of this play fell solely with the actors. In fact, from a director’s point of view, I have to question the choice of play, the characters casted, the costume and makeup design, blocking and the overall quality of the performance.

Directing is actually very hard, so most of these faults are very understandable. I can only imagine that Lillian Horn, junior majoring in visual and performing arts, did her best in directing “The Pillowman.” There are several inconsistencies within the world building of an “unnamed totalitarian dictatorship.” The play is just odd and sometimes does not make sense. It was not something I would choose to direct unless I had an exceptional cast.

The characters casted, unfortunately, leave me with several question marks. Seth Lindsey, who plays Officer Ariel, does not fit the officer type. In fact, he grows too loud during serious points and sarcastically delivers several lines. He shows very little authority, so his portrayal as an officer is less believable.

I question the choice of play because a lot of the dialogue, specifically with Detective Tupolski played by theatre major JoLynn Minns, did not put out a detective vibe in my opinion. The delivery of her lines felt unrehearsed, and her projection faltered because of it. Her character does not feel believable, and no real emotion is conveyed.

Salvador Placensia does not do a bad job. I actually loved his character, but he needed to focus on telling a story, considering that that is what his character mostly does. It should not sound like reading from a book — that is boring. Voice fluctuation and emotion is what tells a story, not just memorizing and reciting words.

Zachary J. Engelman, who plays Michael, is possibly the best actor, but he also had the easiest part to play. His character was child-like, goofy and it definitely felt like he went through childhood trauma. While some costumes looked great (i.e. the Pillowman), others did not. Maybe Lindsey’s officer would seem more believable if his uniform looked real and fit properly. Makeup also bothered me. The design of it was excellent, but the way it was applied was horrifying; like the dancers just smudged ash all over their faces in under five minutes. Take time to apply your makeup, do it right and it will look good; that goes for everyone.

I had big issues with some blocking and choice movements. What kind of detective interferes with evidence by touching it with their bare hands? Who would ever put lighter fluid in a trashcan and then stick their hand in it with a lighter? Then, there was the “smothering the parents” scene. I get the artistic choice, but it just looked weird. Having Katurian actually (but not actually) smother the parents while telling his story would look better.

Quality of the performance was very low, but thanks to the dancers, the play was worthwhile. The dance ensemble did an overall better job of acting than the four main actors did. They told the stories with their bodies, using fantastic choreography by Olivia Langley and Shayla Mellen.

As far as a student production goes, there was a lot of hard work done. That is evident. However, there is so much that needs to be reworked, cleaned up, re-blocked and practiced.

Maybe the students were under a time crunch? Maybe other schoolwork interfered with ability to commit to the performance? It needs to be addressed so UCCS students can continue to enjoy quality performances in the future.

“The Pillowman” had potential, but this performance did not deliver what I hoped it would. My expectations were unmet.