I'd been warned about all of these plays in advance- especially "Pillowman." But the only one that actually bothered me was "Lear." I got out of "Pillowman," which is famous for its twisted violence against children, feeling moved, but not particularly shocked. There was horrible stuff in it, but it didn't go beyond the pale, for me at least. It all had a purpose. "Hatfield and McCoy" had plenty of deaths, but you know, not too many deaths for a story about an incurable feud. It's not always golden statues and handshakes, folks. In fact, it usually isn't.
Lear, on the other hand, had many violent episodes that seemed tacked-on. And while it had a slightly lower death-count than "Hatfield & Mccoy," and far less perversion than "Pillowman," it had an abundance of gratuity. You see, you have to tell the story. If you need to knife someone, you need to knife someone. If you need gunshots, and stomach-turning anecdotes, you need them. When you don't need it, and you did it anyway, then, and only then, have you gone too far.
Enough philosophizing and onto the shows! "Pillowman" is a lovely piece of work, one of those plays that seems like it must be the most important story the playwright has to tell. It also has this bit where a policeman tries to force a suspect to eat some severed toes. It drew some of the weirdest audience reactions I've ever heard- no straight out laugh lines to speak of, but a constant smattering of loud chuckles as various individuals found certain words irresistibly funny. Envision an insane post-modern Law and Order SVU thought experiment that eventually breaks your heart. Also, Tracy Letts is pretty spectacular.
"Hatfield & McCoy" is quite intense and quite beautiful- especially its juggernaut of a second act. The (historically-based) plot sort of bridled against "Romeo and Juliet" in a lot of cutting and interesting ways. Lovely songs, a teenage heroine so vivid I think I might have had her in a class once, and bleak, unending death. I particularly liked the stately gentleman who played the McCoy patriarch, and the McCoy matriarch (Stacy Stoltz) devastated me (as usual.) Also, who knew Nate Allen could preach?
N.B. for Hatfield and Mccoy. Certain seats are not for the faint of heart. If you want bodies to fall at your feet, and Ma Mccoy's tears to fall in your lap, get there early and plonk your butts in the front row seats side-audience seats closest to the entrance.