Saturday , October 21 2017
Home / Culture and Society / Arts / Theater Review (NYC): ‘Pity in History’ by Howard Barker
The debut stage production of a 1985 BBC teleplay questions whether the two warring sides of human nature can ever be reconciled. The answer it suggests doesn't bode well. Yet as a polished, powerful, challenging piece of art itself, it offers a silver lining of hope too.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Pity in History’ by Howard Barker

Thought-provoking and well-acted, if confusing at times, this debut stage production of the 1985 BBC teleplay Pity in History hits hard. Howard Barker’s symbolist account of an attack on a cathedral’s iconography and artworks in the time of Oliver Cromwell has been rather unconvincingly repositioned into the present day, but it still hits home with a strong multipart message about the nature and importance of art, the significance of honest work, and the frightening sectarianism at our core.

A mortally wounded cook named Murgatroyd (a spitfire performance by Jonathan Tindle), his invective as hot as his oven, refuses for the longest time to die, and what lies beyond appears not at all promising. A troop of soldiers march in and out shouting jingoistic slogans asserting their side’s absolute righteousness. And Venables, a royalist war widow played in stately fashion by Kathleen Wise, directs an artist-mason in memorializing her husband in stonework that cannot survive the hammer-wielding, idol-smashing troops led by the relentless Factor (Jay Dunn).

Jay Dunn (Factor), Steven Dykes (Gaukroger), Jonathan Tindle (Murgatroyd) in 'Pity in History' from the Potomac Theatre Project, photo by Stan Barouh
Jay Dunn (Factor), Steven Dykes (Gaukroger), Jonathan Tindle (Murgatroyd) in ‘Pity in History’ from the Potomac Theatre Project, photo by Stan Barouh

In Steven Dykes’s magnetically compelling portrayal, Gaukroger the mason is at once a bossy, money-hungry blowhard and the humane soft center of the hard and bloody nut in which he and his apprentice, Pool (a sensitive performance by Matt Ball), find themselves. Seeing the seeming hopelessness of a life of honest art and commerce, Pool quits to join the revolutionary army, but finds he can’t fit in with its rigid intolerance. Returning in funny fashion to the cathedral where the artisans’ labors are falling down around the lingering Gaukroger, he embodies Venables’s aphorism – and Barker’s message – that “We have to have art or we don’t know who we are.”

The play questions whether the two warring sides of human nature can ever be reconciled. The answer it suggests doesn’t bode well. Yet as a polished, powerful, challenging piece of art itself, it offers a silver lining of hope too, as fit – and urgent – for our wretched new millennium as it was for the blood-soaked century from which it arose.

Pity in History runs in repertory with Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia through Aug. 6. For schedule and tickets visit the Potomac Theatre Project online or call 1-866-811-4111.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

Check Also

Maria Alyokhina, Pussy Riot, Burning Doors, Belarus Free Theatre, La Mama, Nicolai Khalezin, Natalia Kaliadau

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Burning Doors’ with Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, Belarus Free Theatre

Can villainy endure against the courage to seek freedom of the soul? Or will truth and its power overcome unjust, corrupt evil? Artist-activists from Belarus challenge the tyranny in Vladimir Putin's Russia with this superb production.