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PTP/NYC: Pity in History and Arcadia

  • Theater, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

PTP/NYC returns for its 11th straight New York season with two plays in rep, both of which blend elements of the past and the present. Pity in History, by the scabrous British playwright Howard Barker—a company favorite—offers a modern update on England's 17th-century Civil War, directed by Richard Romagnoli. Tom Stoppard's masterpiece Arcadia, directed by Cheryl Faraone, toggles between stories at the same English country house two centuries apart.

Pity in History: Theater review by Helen Shaw

Every summer, the company PTP/NYC counterprograms the beach season, bringing us black-as-pitch dramas about society, violence and the thorny moral path. Understandably, its favorite playwright is Howard Barker, whose tragicomedies needle modern hypocrisy. He’s the British equivalent of Bertolt Brecht, but we rarely see any of Barker’s work in the U.S. The simple fact that director Richard Romagnoli is staging Barker’s 1984 teleplay Pity in History (in rep with Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia) is reason enough for a trip to Atlantic Stage 2. Even high expectations, however, won’t prepare you for the show’s lacerating excellence. This is a short, sharp, shockingly funny production that oxygenates the blood.

The play begins in a kind of war we know. Soldiers with machine guns, shouting oorah catechism (“Why are we fighting? Because we are right!”), prod at their dying cook (Jonathan Tindle). But we soon realize we aren’t in modern-day Afghanistan but in the 17th century: This is Oliver Cromwell’s army, and they want to smash some cathedrals down. That would be absolutely fine with insouciant local mason Stephen Gaukroger (the wry, hilarious Steven Dykes), but he’s right in the middle of carving a funerary monument. Oi! Couldn’t the rampaging ’ordes come back after ’e gets paid? Gaukroger is the typical Barker antihero: a wise cynic, a mouthy craftsman who knows his (and dogma’s) worth, though he does get one thing wrong. “Nothing beautiful is made after five o’clock,” he says while holding forth about an artist’s workday. Tosh, I say. The show started at seven.

Atlantic Stage 2 (Off Broadway). By Howard Barker. Directed by Richard Romagnoli. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission. Through August 6.

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Written by
Helen Shaw


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