Structured in twelve scenes, the tumultuous action begins in Hungry, shifts to Moscow, and concludes in England. Slide projections are shown on the large screen on the back wall of the stage stating the time and place of each scene. Also projected are drawings by Gerald Scarfe that represent the work of the leading character.
The play follows the odyssey of a young man who becomes a nomad, moving around the world in search of artistic and personal freedom growing more and more disillusioned.
The opening scene takes place on a W.W. I battlefield in the Carpathian Mountains where we meet Bela. He is a 20-year-old idealistic cartoonist. His best friend Grigor is also an artist and they are both serving in the Hungarian army. They get caught up in a Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut-style absurdist clash with their country’s military and later on Russian troops. It’s not as funny as intended chiefly due to the problematic casting.
Alex Draper plays the leading role of Bela as he also did in a 2007 production of the play for the same company. Mr. Draper is a technically accomplished actor but lacks the magnetism and physical countenance necessary to command attention during such a sweeping theatrical journey. There is also the conceit that when in Hungry he speaks in an American voice but when in foreign countries he speaks with a Hungarian accent. A nod to realism certainly but it’s a distracting element of the characterization.
The company of capable actors of diverse experience and talent includes David Barlow, Christopher Marshall, Jonathan Tindle, Christo Grabowski, Valerie Leonard, Stephanie Janssen, Nicholas Hemerling, Alexander Burnett, Steven Medina, Shannon Gibbs, Gabrielle Owens and Ashley Michelle. All of them play multiple roles and some many, with varying results.
Director Richard Romagnoli who also staged the 2007 production and he has done an excellent job of visualizing the scope of the scenes. Action on the battlefield, political conflicts in Moscow and German atrocities in the Ukraine are all exciting. A life drawing class sequence at a Budapest art school is quite compelling. A longhaired female model makes sardonic observations from atop a ladder as the students in long white coats swirl around her. It recalls the stunning achievements of Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway in their art house films.
Mr. Romagnoli’s work with the actors is resourceful and stalwart considering the limitations of the ensemble. The very well staged final sequence where characters are reunited in old age isn’t as poignant as it could be due to the only adequate performances.
Great credit goes to costume designer Danielle Nieves for her multitude of accurate and stylish creations. Military uniforms and coats, austere Russian garb, and 1970’s style garments all richly convey the different time periods and numerous characters.
Mark Evancho’s spare set design inventively uses minimal furnishings to successfully convey the various locales and eras. The lighting design of Hallie Zieselman and Seth Clayton’s sound design both give temporal, geographic and atmospheric dimensions with their skillful effects.
No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming was written by the British playwright Howard Barker (b.1946) and first performed in 1981. Mr. Barker is a prolific author who has not as of yet achieved widespread popularity in the United States. This play is an ambitious attempt in the vein of Tom Stoppard and David Hare of combining politics, history and the personal.
If it were viewed at a conservatory and judged on that basis, this production would be fine. The potential power of the play though would be better realized in a more strongly performed incarnation.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) is performing No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming in repertory with a revival of C.P. Taylor’s Good.
No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming (performed in repertory with Good through August 7, 2016)
PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project)
Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.ptpnyc.org
Running time: two hours and 20 including one intermission