Theater Reviews: ‘No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming’ and ‘Good’

 

NEW YORK—Potomac Theatre Project is presenting in repertory two thoughtful productions that are timely and provocative. Both “No End of Blame” and “Good” offer protagonists undergoing moral struggles. Each, however, is at the opposite end of the moral scale.

In “No End of Blame,” Hungarian political cartoonist Bela Veracek (Alex Draper) holds on to his integrity that demands he draw only what he feels is right and true, even if it means losing everything that most hold dear: love, family, a comfortable home, and financial success.

Bela is not the most attractive of characters. In fact, the first scene finds him about to commit rape on a battlefield. His close friend Grigor (David Barlow) intercedes to save the woman, but Bela goes on to (perhaps) murder an enemy soldier. The incident is ambiguous as it takes place offstage, and Bela says afterward that he has only fired into the air.

Taking place from the end of World War I to the mid-1960s, Bela wanders the world seeking an absence of hypocrisy so that he will be free to create the biting, cynical drawings that depict his view of the world. He never seems to find it, except in a few, fleeting time periods.

A particularly strong episode takes place at the Writers’ and Artists’ Institute in Moscow. There a sympathetic committee interviews Bela, hoping he will to some degree bend his principles. But even though a forceful female comrade on the committee (Valerie Leonard) makes a strong pitch, Bela will not budge.

An interesting point is made regarding art. A painting can draw forth many interpretations, thereby letting each viewer come to his own conclusions, which may be extremely varied. On the other hand, a cartoon can have only one interpretation. Thus a cartoon has a directness about it and may even create problems for the cartoonist and/or his publication, in cases where an extreme political view is the issue.

Bela (Alex Draper) is willing to sacrifice everything for his artistic integrity, even his wife (Stephanie Janssen., in "No End to Blame." (Stan Barouh)

Bela (Alex Draper) is willing to sacrifice everything for his artistic integrity, even his wife (Stephanie Janssen), in “No End to Blame.” (Stan Barouh)

Bela’s travels finally take him to London, where he lands a cushy job that lasts quite a while until the political climate changes. Then he is subjected to a humiliating conference involving his editor, himself, and the powers that be. After severe threats to close down the paper unless the content of Bela’s cartoons goes in a different direction, he must capitulate. He does so, with sorrow etched on his face.

Alex Draper’s Bela is outstanding. And under Richard Romagnoli’s direction, performances are strong throughout, with the tension inherent in this fascinating play unrelenting. Others in the cast are Christopher Marshall, Nicholas Hemerling, Jonathan Tindle, Christo Grabowski, Alexander Burnett, Steven Medina, Shannon Gibbs, Gabrielle Owens, and Ashley Michelle.

In C.P. Taylor’s “Good,” John Halder (Michael Kaye), a German literature professor, is drawn into the Nazi machinery when some of his writings come to the attention of prominent Nazis. John has written a couple of novels, one of which deals with the problems of the senile elderly.

This situation holds personal interest for John, as his own mother (Judith Chaffee) is so afflicted. Their several scenes together are both moving and irritating, as she repeatedly demands help for minor or unpleasant tasks.

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