PTP/NYC: No End of Blame and Good
Time Out says
No End of Blame: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Howard Barker’s writing is irreducibly dense. (When you try to quote his good lines, you quote the whole damn thing.) His dramas seem to have palpable mass; we leave them feeling like we haven’t seen a play—someone’s thrown one at us like a rock.
In the seriocomic epic No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming, Hungarian political cartoonist Bela (Alex Draper) slogs through a world war, runs afoul of the Soviets, then finds freedom in Britain, only to be censored all over again. Bela is narcissistic and charismatic, reminiscent of a particular kind of Brechtian superman. But Barker’s character is more complicated than the rude boys Brecht built, a voice of truth and an agent of suffering. As he passes through the alimentary canal of so-called “idealistic” governments, we see it: Bela’s made of the same shit they are.
PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) loves this piece: It appeared in the first season 30 years ago, and I saw its very fine 2007 revival. No End feels even keener this time. Director Richard Romagnoli has sanded away rough edges, leaving superb performances, particularly David Barlow as Bela’s longtime friend and Valerie Leonard as a va-va-voomy apparatchik. Draper, magnificently precise, returns to a role that could have been written for him. “I am bitter with my bit of history!” a woman cries out, as jackboots crush her into the dirt. But I was happy with this morsel of my past—adrenalized all over again by Barker’s black energy.—Helen Shaw
Atlantic Stage 2 (Off Broadway). By Howard Barker. Directed by Richard Romagnoli. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Good: Theater review by Helen Shaw
When the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) brings its summer festival to New York, we all anticipate a bit of difficult thinking. The Middlebury College–based company has a taste for the hard stuff, plays that speak about politics and the catastrophe of human weakness. This season, sticking to that theme, they offer Good, C.P. Taylor's 1981 portrait of one man's descent into Nazism. The production's touch isn't entirely sure—and Taylor certainly has no interest in being subtle—yet the play can still be distressingly effective.
John Halder (Michael Kaye) is a genial if distracted professor of literature, dealing as he is with a demented mother (Judith Chaffee), depressive wife (Valerie Leonard) and panicky friend Maurice (Tim Spears). All these crises seem of roughly equal weight to Halder, but Maurice has the best possible reason to be upset: he's Jewish and the Nazis are gaining power. Halder isn't a bad man per se, but he does always choose the smoother path: he falls in love with his pliable young student (Caitlin Rose Duffy); he joins the Party to advance his career; he finds friendship easier with affable S.S. Major Freddie (Christo Grabowski) than with the increasingly frantic Maurice. When Halder comes to the notice of Eichmann himself (Adam Ludwig) for his writing on humane euthanasia, he has reached the point of no-return.
Jim Petosa's production for PTP is deft in domestic scenes; there's something truly awful and recognizable in the misery between Halder and his mother, Halder and his first wife. The piece seems less certain when the text grows more stylized. Taylor wrote his work as a comic grotesque, so Halder has a mental condition that makes him hear music at inopportune moments, and nightmarish intrusions abound—a silly Hitler (Noah Berman) dances through, or Maurice pops up like a plaintive ghost. Neither Petosa, nor set designer Mark Evancho (using a lot of acting cubes) serves this element of Taylor's fantasy, which leaves some sections of the evening strangely sagging. But at least this gives you time to meditate on the appalling parallels between Halder's world and our own. Racism used as a campaign strategy, police violence and the “average” citizen's indifference—they're all here. It's like a refrain, really, and we've chosen to sing it again.—Helen Shaw
Atlantic Stage 2 (Off Broadway). By C.P. Taylor. Directed by Jim Petosa. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.