The Happiest Medium Review by guest contributor Kate Mickere
Four floors below the sizzling New York streets, the Potomac Theatre Project is exploring hate.
Gary the Thief and Plevna: Meditations on Hatred are two dramatic poems by Howard Barker (both directed by Richard Romagnoli) . The playwright, who has coined the term “Theatre of Catastrophe” to describe his work, is arguing for the return of tragedy in the theatre. Tragedy, in Barker’s opinion, makes theatre more poetic. This short presentation, however, is mostly devoid of the heightened theatricality Barker typically pursues.
Gary the Thief begins the evening with Robert Emmett Lunney as the dark and biting character. Looking like a somber priest, he delivers Barker’s passionate words with a glimmer in his eye. He speaks the piece almost like a classical monologue; moving little and emphasizing the clever language. As Lunney tells us of Gary the Thief’s life of crime, punishment and rehabilitation, one can’t help but feel that the story is being told to only them. He is endearing, yet terrifying as he blames society for his ruin and talks of a brain that he keeps up on a shelf. Throughout Gary the Thief one is struck by Barker’s imagery and sharp wordplay. When Lunney sneers at the audience, “I live among you/ Hating you” the intent is sharply felt.
Plevna: Meditations on Hatred is a more dynamic and interesting, if not angrier piece. Alex Draper bursts into his poem with such energy that one soon forgets the duller opening monologue. Plevna focuses on the hostility between cultures during war time. Draper captivatingly assumes a couple of characters who are all affected by the same conflict. While he commands attention as the “liberator who discovered the oppressed ate better than he did,” he is heartbreaking as the rug maker who must focus intently on his work so as not to think about his dead son or defiled daughter. At the end of the poem, we are reminded that war, however painful, sells. If there was no violence and fatalities, what would poets write about?
Even at a short fifty minutes, the presentation of Gary the Thief and Plevna are difficult to sit through. Both poems can be appreciated for their subject matter and eloquent turns of phrase. The wording can often be a little too clever, however, as one struggles to understand what is being said. Both actors are very skilled and try their best to deliver their work in an exciting way. Essentially, however, the pieces are just recitations. Like sitting through a required course in college, the audience knows that they are seeing something important, but it’s just a little too hard to pay attention.
~~~Plevna: Meditations on Hatred & Gary the Thief Written by Howard Barker Directed by Richard Romagnoli with Alex Draper and Robert Emmet Lunney Atlantic Stage 2 330 West 16 St. Future Performances take place on Thu 7/22 at 7:30pm, Fri 7/23 at 7pm, Sat 7/24 at 3pm, Sun 7/25 at 7:30pm, Wed 7/28 at 7:30pm, Sat 7/31 at 3pm To purchase tickets click here