How’s this for coincidence? Potomac Theatre Project has revived Howard Barker’s 1980 artist-versus-society play No End of Blame at the very moment the playwright is taking on the British government. Barker’s U.K. company, the Wrestling School, announced this month that they have lost their Arts Council funding, effectively ending their work. Barker, an outspoken voice of dissent in Britain, calls it political censorship. The Labour government says it has to cut back on culture to pay for the London Olympics.
It’s the kind of conflict that doesn’t make the West look like a shining example of free artistic expression-—and Barker’s theatrical protagonist, Béla Veracek, would definitely agree. No End of Blame follows the cynical Veracek-—loosely based on the real life of German cartoonist Victor Weisz—as he draws dark caricatures of authority and power. As a young man haunted by the Great War’s battlefields, he moves from Hungary to the USSR, then to Britain during the Blitz, searching for a safe haven for his truth-telling drawings. Soviet swines discourage his work, but when he defects to Britain, pols and newspaper editors exert far uglier economic and psychological pressures. By contrasting Eastern and Western suppression, Barker shows how the Western kind can be more hypocritical and devastating for the artist.
Although Barker normally calls for an array of post-Brechtian distancing devices to create additional layers (like actors in whiteface), here director Richard Romagnoli chooses to stage the epic more or less as naturalism (plus slide-projected cartoons, lecture-style). This would render it blustery and didactic were it not for fine performances from Megan Byrne (in four roles) and—especially-—Alex Draper, who makes Veracek’s smoldering outrage compelling. Meanwhile, Barker continues his struggle to expose political truths, even though the truth is still not in fashion.