Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: Blame It On the Big Screen

By Michael Block

The age of censorship and freedom of speech are alive and well in Howard Barker's No End of Blame. Presented by premiere Barker connoisseurs PTP/NYC, No End of Blame comes at a prominent time in the world where expression through the arts has seen recent turmoil. Directed by Richard Romagnoli, this Barker play spans the life of an artist on his journey for freedom yet seems to be missing the spark to fight.
No End of Blame is not the easiest story to follow. It follows political cartoonist and cynic Bela Veracek who shares his observations through his pen while the world tries to tear him down. The story of censorship chronicles Bela's saga through Barker's signature twisted humor. Only there's a little more preach in his step. With so much to tackle in two acts, Richard Romagnoli's storytelling encountered some pacing problems. Each scene starts like a giant balloon that finds the air getting sucked out by the end. Intrigue to start with monotony by the end. But where No End of Blame seemed to experience a domino of woes was through one crucial element. And that was the giant projection screen. The primary use for the screen was to showcase Bela's art. It helped paint the provocative nature of his ideas. Pictures are worth a thousand words. But the mammoth screen was not used more than it was making you wonder if it was entirely necessary. Not only did it eliminate a significant chuck of playing space but its blankness hurt stage pictures. Additionally, in the growing world theatrical innovations, projection design has to go beyond the slideshow effect. Yes, No End of Blame offered a sole live feed bit, but was it enough? It needs to truly add something to the piece. Sadly, these did not. There must have been another idea to achieve the concept without damaging other elements.
photo by Stan Barouh
The lifelong journey play can be a challenge. Capturing the essence of a person while only offering snapshots, every choice must be defined. As Bela, Alex Draper lived within the character. He was smug and defiant, holding his ground despite mowing down the people he held close to his heart. Often playing the characters, Valerie Leonard, Christopher Marshall, and Jonathan Tindle adopted voices and physicality that helped them stand out in the bunch. Clear and defined described their performances.
With the projection screen nearly dictating many other design choices, there was some variety within. Lighting designer Hallie Zieselman smartly explored angles to capture mood and situation. The stylized music from Seth Clayton was in your face and matched Romagnoli's energetic transitions. Yet it was the only element that fully lived out of period.
Sometimes theater doesn't need the exuberant frills to make a piece glimmer. Sometimes all it takes is allowing the text to speak for itself. No End of Blame is not an easy play. Adding more elements into an already fulfilled piece may do more harm. I suppose you can blame the projection screen for the little things.