PTP/NYC: The Europeans
Howard Barker offers a bleak history play.
Thu Jul 16 2009
BABY DADDY Lunney, center, worries about his wife's newborn child; Photographs:...
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Howard Barker couldn’t have bought himself a better surname. The irascible British writer snarls out his “Theatre of Catastrophe” epics like a chained dog—and if you cross him, he bites. But, as a didactic dramatist, he also displays the opportunism of a carnival promoter. Barker has the showman’s instinct: Despite his avowed hatred of cant, he tosses off Brechtian aphorisms (“Manners will be back as soon as the shops are open”); contra his dogged antiheroism, he crams in an overabundance of vibrant protagonists.
In his thrilling, disorienting The Europeans, we spin between a cynical general (Robert Emmet Lunney) and his mutilated, pregnant soulmate (the ferocious Aidan Sullivan), only to be snatched away to the side of a craven Emperor (Brent Langdon) or a matricidal priest. Ostensibly, this chaos is 17th-century Vienna, which has just fought back the Turk—but really we are in Barkerland, a place where everyone holds forth on truth and pain, and the obscenities of life are lit as lovingly as icons in a church.
Richard Romagnoli’s production is wildly uneven: Performances run the gamut from pitch perfect (Langdon) to wooden (Lunney, in a bad wig); the amateurish set aims at “bombed palace,” but succeeds only in being limply draped. The herky-jerky pace makes Barker’s Jacobean structure needlessly confusing, and yet scrupulous care has been taken with the comic shtick. In short, The Europeans is a mess. But Barker reminds us that so is life, and his play remains sturdy enough that even some fumbling does not dent it.—Helen Shaw