No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming
by Howard Baker
Potomac Theater Company
Directed by Richard Romagnoli
July 13, 2016
Art and Censorship
How important is freedom of expression to an artist? When censorship is imposed, is artistic talent enhanced or diminished? These are among the questions raised in No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming by PTP/NYC’S (Potomac Theater Project) at Atlantic Stage 2.
This is a revival of the work by Howard Barker originally presented in 1981. Alex Draper gives a strong performance as political cartoonist, Bela Veracek, loosely based on German cartoonist Victor Weisz who took a stance against the Nazis. Bela is not a kindly figure, in fact, we first see him attempting to rape a woman in the Carpathian mountains during World War I. The play follows him from Hungary to the emerging Soviet Union to pre-World War II London where he’s censored at every turn but sticks up for his art insisting “I believe the cartoon to be the lowest form of art. I also believe it to be the most important.” In a series of vignettes, Bela travels in search of a country that will allow him to publish his cartoons but every nation, even theoretically liberal England, tries to make him soften his message.
Towards the end, after a failed suicide attempt, Bela winds up in a mental institution where his former friend and artist, Grigor Gabor (David Barlow) is also a resident, fascinating nurses and orderlies by his seeming ability to make a metal bedpan “levitate.”
The main problem with the play is its overall coldness making it hard, if not impossible, for the audience to establish an emotional connection. Bela comes off as a real person but other cast members are flat and one-dimensional—almost cartoons themselves. Richard Romagnoli’s direction is spare and includes projections of cartoons by acclaimed artist Gerald Scarfe that are strong and bitter, rather like the work we infer Bela produces.
PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) presents politically aware theatre for the 21st century. The company’s goal is to offer complex and thought-provoking work of contemporary social and cultural relevance and, to an extent, Blame does this. The work is controversial and thought-provoking if less than fully satisfying. Like Bela Veracek, plays like this need presenting so audiences can see and learn from figures who refuse to compromise their beliefs.