No End of Blame

SUITED TO A TEA Draper, right, meets with his London bosses.

SUITED TO A TEA Draper, right, meets with his London bosses. Photo: Stan Barouh

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

It’s with a huge sigh of relief that one watches a Howard Barker play—not because the notoriously prickly author coddles his audience, but because the writing is so spectacularly top-notch. The Brit bullyboy, always boasting about gobsmacking bourgeois complacency, actually turns out beautifully made work. As fast as he rejects our pleas for entertainment, he satisfies them time after time.

Barker’s 1981 No End of Blame is quite simple: A fiercely iconoclastic cartoonist, Bela (Alex Draper), suffers through two world wars and countless hypocrisies. Like a certain nine-hour British behemoth I could mention, the show moves consecutively through fallen hopes—first the “new Hungary” rejects Bela’s antiviolence cartoons, then the Soviets tut-tut menacingly over his criticisms and, finally, the liberal West quashes his frank assessment of war profiteering. But Barker doesn’t need three evenings and a cast of dozens to illustrate these dirty utopias. His hero, in case you missed it, is a sketch artist.

Director Richard Romagnoli does much with little; despite an empty stage and a stuttering projection design, he creates a world out of whiz-bang ensemble work. The cast, many of them recent Middlebury College graduates, impress consistently, perhaps because they follow Draper’s lead: Along with Christopher Duva, who plays Bela’s not-so-constant companion, he offers a course in boldly drawn character. Apparently the trick is in the moral shading, something both company and playwright pull off with an expert hand.

Atlantic Stage 2 (see Off-Off Broadway). By Howard Barker. Dir. Richard Romagnoli. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.