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Pity in History

From 17 critic and 39 member reviews
Members say: Confusing, Ambitious, Disappointing, Great acting, Slow

About the show

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. More…

'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.'

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

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

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

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Raises rich and enduring questions...Under Romagnoli’s astute direction, the Potomac Theatre Project/NYC has reimagined Barker’s television play for the live stage with considerable success...The cast is uniformly excellent as is the overall staging of this important play. Each cast member delivers an authentic performance that exponentially strengthens the brilliant work of this ensemble cast." 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

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


“Thought-provoking and well-acted, if confusing at times…Rather unconvincingly repositioned into the present day, but it still hits home with a strong multipart message…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 find themselves…A polished, powerful, challenging piece of art.” Full Review


"As a television script, 'Pity in History' is a trifle static (to my American sensibility, it feels more 1970s than 1980s); but, for that reason, it works nicely as a stage play. It runs just over an hour and that brevity minimizes the customary Barkerian wear and tear on the audience. Directed with attention to pace and visual composition by Richard Romagnoli, 'Pity in History' features an estimable performance by Jonathan Tindle." 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

Off Off Online

"A deeply thought-provoking play...These actions are tightly composed under Richard Romagnoli’s precise and effective direction which highlights Barker’s poignant and poetic language. Although Murgatroyd and Gaukroger both offer a voice of reason in the midst of death and destruction, they don’t have straightforward answers. Instead they have smart and well-phrased questions, and we hope someone will come out in one piece to answer them." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"An energizing take on a deeply human conflict...A perfect fit for those looking for a more cerebral night at the theater...The cast does a nice job bringing immediacy to some very heady material...'Pity ' sweeps through the stage and seems to exit as swiftly as it entered. It offers something touching and sad that is then taken away, to live on in memory...A lot of power in this compact play." Full Review

New York Arts

"There are Shakespearean overtones along the way...The performances are beautifully nuanced and well-directed by Romagnoli who has updated the setting to the modern day...PTP/NYC continues to redefine politically aware theatre for the 21st century by presenting theatrically complex and thought-provoking work of contemporary social and cultural relevance...'Pity in History' is great theater for today." 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

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


"The doubleheader is not for the casual theatergoer, but is worth the effort if you're in the market for some intellectual heavy lifting delivered by a company of actors who forsake highbrow pomposity for sincere understanding of their work...Directed with unabashed grit by Richard Romagnoli...The world Barker paints in his hour-long drama is one turned cold and chaotic by the selfishness of man." Full Review


"An interesting but unsatisfying historical fantasia...This incarnation inexplicably 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...'Pity in History’s' cast and technical team works wonders with this minor curio." Full Review

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.

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

Dated, Funny, Thought-provoking

See it if You're interested in a script that draws a heavy allegory between two historical times other than our own

Don't see it if You're looking for something light, low-rhetoric, and action-heavy

Intelligent, Relevant, Quirky, Complex, Challenging

See it if Intellectually challenging satire about the necessity and folly of art and war, and the people that pursue them. Witty and deep.

Don't see it if You are looking for more of an emotional connection to the characters.

Edgy, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Clever

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

Barker talkathon is grim and short

See it if Another Barker artist trying to deal with authority -- this time with an Army officer and a chaplain. Written for TV, just over an hour

Don't see it if you don't like gunshots, violence and torture. Fine acting and staging of a war drama. Very grim, though Tindle as the dying cook is a riot.

Clever, Confusing, Ambitious, Funny, Intense

See it if you are interested in a powerful message about the evils of war, with some humor thrown in.

Don't see it if you want a linear plot, that is easy to follow without much thought.

Ambitious, Great acting, Confusing, Profound

See it if think that one can solve the problems of war.Better than I expected. Great talent

Don't see it if were looking for a fun musical. Clever work but only 65 minutes

Ambitious, Confusing, Intelligent, Profound, Thought-provoking

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, Dated, Confusing, Great staging, Slow

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.

Clever, Confusing, Disappointing, Edgy, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see a production whose process is more interesting than its message

Don't see it if You are looking for something light

Relevant, Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Confusing

See it if an intellectualized take on what conditioning and propaganda can do to a societys' way of thinking

Don't see it if forceful dialogue (not always discernible because of heavy accents) and not a cheerful play

Fine acting. but why?????

See it if You just love wordy and multi-layered plays that steam roll to a conclusion.

Don't see it if You don't want to have to concentrate. This one is not easy to take.

Also Faultless acting and direction. Personally I do not want to have to wo... Read more Read less

Funny, Entertaining, Clever, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if if you like black comedy

Don't see it if you like musicals

Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Indulgent

See it if your a fan of British war history.

Don't see it if you are looking for a fast moving drama with interesting character development..

Confusing, Disappointing, Slow

See it if You want to see a very raw and bare-bones type show

Don't see it if You want to see something that is polished and well thought out

Also I wonder who writes these reviews on here? I can't imagine anyone seei... Read more Read less

During previews
Thought-provoking, Relevant, Edgy, Resonant, Absorbing

See it if You like thought-provoking plays about major issues such as war, art, life and death. There are echoes of Beckett and even Shakespeare.

Don't see it if You're not ready to concentrate on a lively and sometimes funny but dense serious play.

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

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, Relevant, Meandering, Clever

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

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

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

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
Great acting, Confusing, Ambitious

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
Absorbing, Entertaining, Great staging, Intelligent, Quirky

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
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.