Working Title: In Bruges, In Purgatory, In The Pillowman

This Week Will Leschber will writes in only violence and expletives…

Sometimes you just need the dark. Growing up American tinges lives with a cutting, optimistic edge. This is not a value judgment. This is not a universal truism. And this is hardly a new revelation. Plenty of my friends would not describe themselves as optimistic yet there is a undercurrent of Manifest Destiny that informs the fabric of who we are. We have come to expect happy endings. We see ourselves as the good guys and believe that to be true. What strikes me these days is not this aspect of our collective identity but moreso the way it pervades our outlook. Specifically, this train of thought is a recognition of a tug that often pulls on the way we creatively tell stories or expect stories to be told. When we’ve had our fill of comfort and familiarity, an abrasive and unexpected story may be just what is required.

A story that uproots blind optimism can be supremely refreshing. Martin McDonagh, the acclaimed Irish playwright seems like a tonic to cure stories with bows and happy endings. Yet, even with his happy ending averted…or inverted, McDonagh retains a moral optimism in all of his vulgar and violent tales. This may simply come down to the characters finally lying in the beds that they’ve made.

(l-r.) Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell star in Martin McDonagh's IN BRUGES, a Focus Features release.

(l-r.) Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell star in Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES, a Focus Features release.

Now, I’m more familiar with his film work and yet I’ve been told I’ve been really missing out by not experiencing his distinct voice in Theatre. Well if you are like me and need to bath in the absurdly, hilarious darkness of a Martin McDonagh play, now’s your chance. On June 12th, The Breadbox, a company in residence at the EXIT Theatre, opens The Pillowman directed by Ariel Craft. To wet your whistle for a proper cinematic and theater pairing, I reached out to Justin Gillman who is one of the lead actors in this new production.

Justin had this to say: “There are very few individuals in cinema who can match Martin McDonagh’s sickly beautiful and uncomfortably hilarious world-view, that is so brilliantly on display in his masterpiece, “The Pillowman.” I see glimpses of it in the works of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. But, if you really want an idea of what you’re in for when you come see McDonagh’s play, look no further than his own recent writing/directing effort, 2008’s Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, “In Bruges,” starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The film, about two Irish hitmen in hiding, has the same signature mixture of horror and hilarity that makes “The Pillowman” so grueling yet so captivating.”


I can’t speak for The Pillowman, which I’m dying to see, but I can say that In Bruges is such a refreshing knockout-punch of obscenity, potent violence, serenely boring beauty, unexpected hilarity and genuine feeling. How McDonagh weaves such a balanced hypnotic net with such deranged and estranged parts, I’ll never know. But I do know that I love this film. Mcdonagh’s second film effort, Seven Psychopaths, while not quite as fully realize as In Bruges is still a captivating treatise on violence and the way we spin our lives into the stories we tell. I hear all these threads twist and turn within The Pillowman. Even with it’s rippling tragic core, In Bruges seems to tie up exactly as it should. It’s the definition of dark and satisfying.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Old Questions for a New Year

Marissa Skudlarek, heralding in the New Year. All the questions at once.

What am I going to write my Theater Pub column about this week?

Isn’t it presumptuous to think that I will have something interesting to write about every two weeks till the end of time?

When will the end of time come, anyway?

Is this format cheesy?

How meta and self-indulgent can I get, anyway?

Is this café playing French music to commemorate the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack or do they just always play French music?

Should I write about the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Do I have anything that’s actually worth saying about the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Do I have anything that’s actually worth saying about anything?

Do I have impostor syndrome?

Do I have depression?

Do all talented people fall prey to impostor syndrome that leads them to underestimate themselves, and do all untalented people fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect that leads them to overestimate themselves, and is that why the world’s in such a mess?

Where do I get off, dividing people into “talented” and “untalented”? Isn’t that presumptuous of me, too?

How can I cultivate compassion in my heart for all beings when I am frustrated by how much idiocy I see around me?

Is it ableist to call people idiots?

Is it fair to pull you down the rabbit holes of my mind?

If I were a man, would I be this concerned about seeming “presumptuous”?

If I were a man, would I have a large penis or a small one?

What does it say about me that I just wrote the previous sentence?

Is this column an example of a smart person underestimating herself or a fool overestimating herself?

How could Stuart pour out 5000 words on Monday when I’m struggling to get to 300 words?

Why do I have such a mental block?

Am I out of practice?

Am I coming down with a cold?

When this column is published, will it soon vanish into the sea of words that is the Internet, or will it haunt me for the rest of my days?

How can I be proud of myself in 2015?

How can I kindle a fire in myself, and have that fire be one of warmth and joy rather than one of anger and destruction?

Is that metaphor cheesy?

Would I have made that metaphor if I weren’t sitting next to a gas fire right now?

Are gas fires with fake logs tacky?

Is there anything in this world that cannot be met with words of disdain: “tacky,” or “presumptuous,” or “idiotic,” or “cheesy,” or “self-indulgent,” or dozens of other words that I have not even used in this column yet?

What, exactly, am I so afraid of?

Because this is all about fear, isn’t it?

Have I progressed at all in the last year, when I wrote on this blog about trying to operate out of a sense of joy and abundance, rather than fear and scarcity?

Do we ever progress, at all? Does the world?

Is it worse to be a naïve optimist or a cynical pessimist?

Why do we think that optimists are fools and pessimists are intelligent?

What could we accomplish if we reversed that? If optimism was considered intelligent – and pessimism would get you ridiculed?

Well, we’d probably get the Third Reich, wouldn’t we?

Dear God, how much of a pessimist am I?

Can I end this conversation with myself now that Godwin’s Law has been proven?

How foolish can I be, to speak of ending this conversation, when I live in my head and I know that it never ends?

And if I am a fool, why am I not an optimist?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her at or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.