Human behavior can be a gold mine for a playwright, and Crystal Skillman has found her nugget — Mankind’s propensity to torture.
In “The Vigil or The Guided Cradle,” a new play opening at the Brick in Williamsburg on April 24, the Boerum Hill playwright examines the Existential dynamic of human cruelty — from medieval savagery to today’s more subtle approaches.
“Some people derive pleasure from an instantaneous kind of thing, such as putting someone down. Everybody has this,” said Skillman. “Prisoner or torturer — we all have the capacity to be both, which is scary to think about.”
The writer started thinking about it after a fateful trip in 2004 to Prague, where Skillman’s interest in the specifics of torture was piqued by a visit to the Museum of Medieval Torture (it really is a must when in Prague). Wandering down its many corridors, she was introduced to the vigil, or, as it is also known, the guided cradle.
Though it’s not waterboarding, the instrument would be instantly recognizable to any practitioner of “enhanced interrogation techniques”: the prisoner sits on a pyramid-shaped seat with a sharp point in the middle that pokes him uncomfortably just as he is about to sleep — the first form of sleep-deprivation torture.
Hopping back and forth between the 15th and 21st centuries, “Vigil” draws a darkly humorous parallel between the man who invented this device and a woman whose father is an Abu Ghraib general.
“Given that the circumstances are so extreme, it brings out a lot of great drama,” said Skillman. “There’s an action-packed level to the story, it’s almost pulpy in that sense.”
The play doesn’t shy away from visiting the violence inherent in the subject matter, but achieves much of that through language alone.
“Sometimes just a description of an act can be evocative and scary at the same time,” said Skillman.
Warning: you might have trouble sleeping after this play.
“The Vigil or The Guided Cradle” at The Brick [575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, (718) 907-6189], April 24-May 8. Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets $18. For info, visit www.bricktheater.com.