DramaFeaturedNew YorkOff-BroadwayReview

Pity in History – Atlantic Stage 2, New York

Writer: Howard Barker

Director: Richard Romagnoli

Reviewer: Robert Price

An empty church is a barracks in wartime. The cook has been shot but he’s taking far too long to die, such that his singing and cursing are affecting the morale of the infantry. The chaplain encourages the soldiers to destroy the catholic idolatry in Jesus’ name, but reprimands their desire to smash the riches they find in private homes. A mason works on the likeness of a dead aristocrat, breathing life into the lie that the widow wants preserved. Howard Barker’s 1985 teleplay is a striking revelation, on stage for the first time thanks to Potomac Theatre Project. Rife with contradictions and thick with symbolic power, the 65-minute piece is an electric exchange of ideas. The setting of 17th century  England remains only in a few references to the republicans and the monarchists; the dress and cadence is contemporary. 

The use of the soldiers as a chorus is astonishing and effective. It is rare to see space and light sculpted so boldy with human bodies. We are witnessing a practiced hand executing the vision of one of the company’s signature playwrights. Jonathan Tindle finds endless variation for his crazed cook. Stephen Dykes lives a masculine reserve in Gaukroger the mason. Christopher Marshall throws his full weight behind the rhetoric of the chaplain, pulling us toward his point of view whether we agree with it or not. For a theatre lover, it’s a shot of adrenaline.

Runs until 6 August 2017

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