As audience members enter the Atlantic Stage 2, where the Potomac Theatre Project’s production of Brecht on Brecht is playing, they may be under the impression they have entered a quaint concert salon. There is a grand piano prominently positioned just off center stage, four music stands at the edge of the playing space, and the floor is covered with luxurious Oriental rugs. When the show begins, four ingratiating young performers carrying sheet music primly assume their positions behind the stands.
In what has become a rite of summer in New York, the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) has taken up residence at the Atlantic Stage 2. The company’s first offering is a double bill featuring Howard Barker’s The Possibilities, directed by Richard Ramagnoli, and Caryl Churchill’s The After-Dinner Joke, directed by Cheryl Faraone. Although stylistically quite different, the plays generally fit together well in their emotionally dizzying and intellectually disorienting exploration of power and politics.
Howard Barker’s Pity in History is a deeply thought-provoking play, which uses the events of the 17th-century English Civil War (a fight to overthrow the monarchy and replace it with a parliamentary government) but is set in contemporary times, to explore the meaning of life, death and relationships. Barker wrote the play in 1984 for BBC television, and its antiwar attitude is clear. It opens on a British platoon that comes to represent any thuggish mass that makes up a military unit. It’s easy to imagine this very same platoon in the Falklands, Afghanistan, or Iraq. After all, war is war, and all war is hell.