Ends Aug 06

Pity in History

Members say: Confusing, Ambitious, Great acting, Disappointing, Slow
10 reviews
28 reviews

Potomac Theatre Project presents Howard Barker's 17th-century British civil war drama updated to the present day. A sexy, brazen, and funny examination of a society rife with competing ideologies.

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'Pity in History' focuses on the overthrow of the old regime by an insurgency with a rigorous and severe view of the world. Art as religious representation and inspiration is challenged as a tool of possibly demonic privilege. Originally produced as a teleplay by the BBC in 1985, this production marks the script's professional stage premiere. Running in repertory with 'Arcadia.'

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Reviews (38)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

“In Howard Barker’s ‘Pity in History,’ the only sure things are death, destruction and a mordant sense of humor…Solidly anchored by Mr. Dykes and Mr. Tindle in comic performances veined with sympathy, this production proves the piece’s merit for the stage. The soldier-dominated scenes could use more concentrated energy, though, and the play’s villainous rich widow seems anomalous in Mr. Romagnoli’s grand scheme.” Full Review

Time Out New York

“Even high expectations, however, won’t prepare you for the show’s lacerating excellence. This is a short, sharp, shockingly funny production that oxygenates the blood...Gaukroger (the wry, hilarious Dykes)…is the typical Barker antihero: a wise cynic, a mouthy craftsman who knows his (and dogma’s) worth, though he does get one thing wrong. ‘Nothing beautiful is made after five o’clock,’ he says while holding forth about an artist’s workday. Tosh, I say. The show started at seven.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

“Interesting and smart…Remarkably funny and challenging…The artist, Gaukroger, is beautifully played with humor and depth by Dykes…Using humor and sincerity, Barker as seen through the sharp directorial eyes of Romagnoli, reminds us of the brutality generated by ideological postures and politics. And although there are moments of unclear intentions, the piece has staying power. It will float through our thoughts and dive deep into our emotional consciousness.” Full Review


"This incarnation unexplainably updates the material visually with contemporary costumes. If nothing else, this adds crackle to the rather turgid script...Director Richard Romagnoli’s physical staging is precise, lively and impressive. Mr. Romagnoli’s work with the cast, all of whom employ strong British accents, is equally as accomplished...The cast and technical team works wonders with this minor curio." Full Review

Woman Around Town

“Fluidly woven into a tapestry of extremism, impotence, defense, and survival, the play’s multiple factions are as familiar today as they are in context. The company is terrific. Of special note: Steven Dykes’s Gaukroger is easygoing, honest, practical and proud…We observe a whole person. As Murgatroyd, Jonathan Tindle persuasively delivers humor, poignancy, fear, feistiness, and anger trippingly off an unleashed tongue…Director Richard Romagnoli viscerally realizes this heady play.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“A pithy, biting, thought-provoking black comedy…Dykes’ mason is both everyman and larger-than-life as he elucidates the playwright’s thoughts and observations on war and the human condition. His splendid portrayal is earthy and all-encompassing…While the characters exist to espouse the playwright’s views they are all carefully crafted, flesh and blood individuals…The splendid direction is by Romagnoli, who hones the dark comic lines even as the brutality of battle remains front and center.” Full Review

Stage Buddy

"A political satire with the feel of a parable...This world premiere production transplants the text into a modern-feeling ethos. Gaukroger (an affecting and funny turn by Steven Dykes), his apprentice, Pool (the excellent Matt Ball), and a unit of soldiers take up residence in a cathedral...The resonances here are sprawling and work as well for the Thatcherite regime originally in its crosshairs as it does for today's zealous administrations both in Barker's native England and in the States.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“The artist is a mason named Gaukroger played with beautiful restraint by Steven Dykes, attempting to complete the carving of a funeral monument in the crypt of a cathedral with his apprentice Pool, a spot-on Matt Ball, for the widow Venables, a glamorous Kathleen Wise…‘Pity In History’ illuminates the conflict and contradiction that inherently come to light when chaos and art face off against each other.” Full Review

Village Voice

"There are more ideas chewed up and invigoratingly spit out in five minutes of Howard Barker’s 65-minute 'Pity in History' than in many plays of greater length...The meaty flavor of his writing is so intense, and his point-of-view shifts so seamless, that our expected reactions to what his characters say are constantly being thwarted, waylaid, even mocked...'Pity in History' has both the thrill of destruction and the nourishment of creation." Full Review

The Reviews Hub

"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 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...It’s a shot of adrenaline." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Clever, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you are trying to understand today's political environment and the conflicts between art and ideology

Don't see it if you don't like dark comedy and satire

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound, Confusing

See it if You are ok with big ideas and abstract concepts discussed on war, religion, art, and greed.

Don't see it if You need a strong narrative style and clear ideas

Ambitious, Confusing, Slow, Dated, Great staging

See it if You love everything from the BBC & want to see on of their tele-plays on stage. You like shows about big ideas.

Don't see it if You want a play w/a traditional plot or characters: it's a series of scenes where characters spout philosophies & ideologies.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound

See it if the wars we are getting into don't make sense

Don't see it if you think God and country are always on our side

Also John Lennon's song "Imagine" would be a good musical accompaniment

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see a play with tremendous mordant wit, performed by a sold ensemble with a brilliantly effortless central performance.

Don't see it if You're looking for light entertainment.

During previews
Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant, Great staging

See it if Intense and timeless themes of politics, religion and art done in a stylish, visceral production.

Don't see it if Themes dominate not much story or plot

During previews
Absorbing, Intelligent, Quirky, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if you appreciate British satire and social commentary.

Don't see it if you're expecting a profound experience or a laugh out loud comedy.

During previews
Clever, Confusing, Slow

See it if You will go to anything of Howard Barker, like me. You will be content with some very witty dialogue

Don't see it if You will be annoyed to not understand some of the dialogue (poor delivery) or elements of the plot (the playwright, the direction?)

During previews
Ambitious, Great acting, Confusing

See it if Intriguing well acted drama but sometimes same points repetitious and other times not sure I "got" it.

Don't see it if Want clear story or feel good evening

During previews
Intelligent, Quirky, Disappointing, Dated

See it if you're interested in the writing of playwright Howard Barker; are an alum of Middlebury's drama department, have a friend in the cast.

Don't see it if you are expecting a strong historical drama with good acting, dislike "updating" a play inconsistently

Also This was originally a radio drama. While I don't think the script is t... Read more Read less

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Entertaining

See it if You want a great night at a small theatre.

Don't see it if You're needing a musical or a feel good piece

During previews
Ambitious, Clever, Relevant, Meandering

See it if you're in the mood for a serious historical drama that is clearly meant to comment on the present day. Makes you think.

Don't see it if you're bothered by strobe lights, imperfect British accents as attempted by Americans, or varying levels of acting experience.

During previews
Great acting, Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Bad script

See it if You enjoy seeing decent acting regardless of script, or if you enjoy any portrayal of the 17th C. civil war in England, or like teleplays.

Don't see it if You don't like pointless, poorly executed modernizations of scripts, like shows with a more clear point, or like decently written shows.

Also Although the acting was pretty good for an off (-off) Broadway product... Read more Read less

During previews
Great acting, Confusing, Slow, Dated

See it if you enjoy period dramas with very roundabout plots.

Don't see it if you want to see some talented actors.

Also The actors did a great job, but plot was slow and slightly confusing. ... Read more Read less

During previews

See it if a play about faith, humanity, the devastating effects of war, and how they cut across all spheres of life.It connects the past and present.

Don't see it if you don't want to reflect about the losses and casualties of war.

Also Great ensemble cast.Jonathan Tindle gives an electrifying and humorous... Read more Read less

During previews
Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Great staging

See it if you enjoy a modern day setting of the English Civil War. You get a good feel of how soldiers and artists feel in wartime.

Don't see it if you enjoy comedy. This is not a pretty show and there is violence.

During previews
Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow, Muddled

See it if you want to see & cheer on a repertory company of mainly young (undergrad) actors regardless of a seemingly aimless production of 65 minutes

Don't see it if you need a clear, compelling plot or dialogue, or you're looking for something light, humorous, or with elaborate production design

During previews
Confusing, boring, preachy, slow

See it if you want to be preached to about art, war and religion. Worse Barker Ive ever seen. Was originally a tv script; should have stayed that way

Don't see it if Mercifully only 65 minutes long; no real plot; unlikable characters; skip this one.

During previews
Ambitious, Edgy, Confusing, Good acting & staging

See it if want to see something different that tries to show the importance of art and artifacts (but is overshadowed by war, religion, greed, etc.)

Don't see it if you don't like harsh, loud sounds of military marches, strobe lights, angry dialogues with only a dash of humor

Also Beware if you sit in the front row. I had on sandals and was frequentl... Read more Read less

During previews
Annoying, Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing, Fine acting

See it if enjoy shows with good acting that deal with relevant issues such as art, politics, class, war and fanaticism.

Don't see it if don't like shows that are loud, both difficult to understand and obtuse and somewhat pretentious.

During previews
Thought-provoking, Resonant, Great writing, Confusing, Great staging

See it if you think about whether "We need art to know who we are" and current societal elements through historical lens, apprec. Barker/British plays

Don't see it if you can't understand British dialect, humor and historical references, sit 90 min. w/out interval, focus and think critically/open-mindedly

During previews
Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Entertaining

See it if You don't mind wading through a lot of dielect to get to the play. It wasn't bad...but it seemed to take forever to not get very far.

Don't see it if You want a clear play that touches on subjects relevant to today, this does that but in so much metaphor that it mostly got lost on me.

During previews
Intense, Quirky, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if My guess is that it had something meaningful to say about art, commerce and war, if you could understand the impenetrable British dialect.

Don't see it if you have a low tolerance for symbolism and gore.

During previews
Confusing, Great staging

See it if Want to see a well-directed but flawed play made more intelligible by what was done with it. Enjoy some excellent performances.

Don't see it if You prefer your plays without cliches; writing is weak here.

During previews
Ambitious, Disappointing, Slow, Dated

See it if If you re very anti - war and a big fan of the director.

Don't see it if you want to see a relevant play that has a new message about war.

Also This play was written in 1984. The themes in the play have been perfor... Read more Read less