Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"No End of Blame"
Potomac Theatre Project at The Atlantic Stage
Victor Weisz, a strong voice for freedom of expression, deserves far more recognition than he has gained here in the West. A provocative left-wing political cartoonist, Weisz made his mark in Germany and in Great Britain in the pre- and post-war years, but is little known in this country.
It is a story worthy of note. Weisz was born to Hungarian-Jewish parents in Berlin, where he went on to study art and to become a cartoonist. His provocative, anti-Nazi cartoons gained recognition in the German newspapers, giving him high visibility. As a member of the Jewish community with socialist political opinions, he was clearly at risk and fled to England when Hitler gained power. There he appeared in many newspapers and ultimately became the country’s leading left-wing cartoonist. His work would be published in many collections through the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. But ultimately, overcome by depression, he committed suicide in 1966.
British playwright Howard Barker has taken the Weisz text for a base and made it his own. He creates the story of a Hungarian cartoonist, one Bela Veracek. While Veracek loosely parallels Weisz in values and pursuits, he is not connected with any religious affiliation, Jewish or otherwise. Barker’s point is that Veracek is not restricted by any dogma, religious or political. Freedom is the name of the game. Yet one wonders why playwright Barker did not create a Jewish character if he was inspired by Weisz.
Barker has made other switches to the Weisz story—presumably in the name of dramatic license. Veracek moves through two world wars—from the Carpathian Mountains to Budapest to Moscow to London. He emigrates from Hungary to Russia to, ultimately, Great Britain. Veracek’s every move is motivated by strong idealism, every move shattered by reality. British authorities come off as badly as the Russians, in this piece.
Barker has created a thought-provoking, powerful—albeit talky—piece—a piece that gains in power as the story evolves. The question of government restrictions in times of crisis is ever-relevant, certainly in this era. Is it ever justifiable to restrict individual—and artistic—freedoms? When is a nation’s security in jeopardy? Should government officials ever have a free hand, riding rough-shod over civil rights?
Such are the issues of “No End of Blame.” The play, in the capable hands of the wonderful Potomac Theater Project, is now being given a fine, affecting production. This small company, originally Washington-based, has moved its operation to off-Broadway, where it continues its mandate to offer plays of social/political significance.
Under the sure hand of director Richard Romagnoli, the play runs through a series of staccato scenes, rather like a Brechtian epic tale. In fact, as the ensemble appears at times in nondescript but appropriate rags, one is reminded of “Mother Courage.” Actors, led by Alex Draper as Veracek and Megan Byrne in numerous roles, create a flawless ensemble.
In all, a worthy New York debut for PTP—even if Barker’s story is Judenfrei.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 8, 2007