This week I attended an evening of four one-act plays organized by Downstage Left, an Amsterdam-based international theatre company. I had been specifically invited to review Pillow Talk, a short play written by Peter Tolan, directed by Ben Evans and performed by Charles Bird and Chris Grabski. Pillow Talk was delightful. Let me tell you why.
First of all, I am always impressed by well-executed brevity. If a play, book, film or other creative product manages to amuse, move or otherwise get its point across in a short amount of time, I think this is a sign of great creative talent, and more importantly, skill. Pillow Talk has a runtime of about 30 minutes, I’d say, and is a perfect example of what Hamlet said: “brevity is the soul of wit.”
Because Pillow Talk is very funny. It’s funny the way the familiar can be made funny if it is presented cleverly. The plot of the play is simple: two heterosexual men who are close friends are forced to share a bed. One of them is uncomfortable with this arrangement. The other one just wants to sleep. Anyone who knows anything about awkward slumber parties or toxic masculinity will understand how this plays out. The men bicker, of course, and passive-aggressively keep switching the nightlight on and off. Indeed, the hilarity of Pillow Talk lies in the fact that the whole thing is so utterly familiar and recognizable to its audience.
Stage props are minimal: it’s just two men in a tiny bed. Their close proximity adds to the humorous tension that is central to the play. It takes some excellent acting to make a play with such a limited setting, which could easily become static or dull to watch, so riveting. The two actors, Charles Bird and Chris Grabski, pull this off brilliantly.
Most importantly for me, Pillow Talk engages with a social issue close to my heart: it unpacks the complicated and sometimes ridiculous phenomenon of toxic masculinity. Pillow Talk asks, quite explicitly, exactly what it is that many men find so unnerving about physical and emotional intimacy, why they feel that way and what could be gained by examining those feelings. It also questions heteronormativity and the societal expectations we all have of male friendship.
If you get the chance, go and see Pillow Talk. It will be performed five times between 24-26th April at the CC Amstel theatre. Booking opens soon.
The photographs of Pillow Talk used in this piece were made by Arjen Veldt.