Have you ever wandered into a majestic ornate house of worship in some foreign city (I’m a bit of an atheist church-seeker on holiday) and wondered how this came to be. Where did all this money come from to build this ‘temple’ to someone’s God? And at what cost to those that struggle to survive who live in its shadow? Is this what religion is, a grand and spectacular showcasing of art and wealth to overwhelm and send the masses into a state of awe and worship? Or is this greed and hypocrisy being masked as something else?
This conceptual argument on religion and idolatry is just one of the many complex topics debated in the interesting and smart drama written by the British playwright, Howard Barker (No End of Blame, Scenes from an Execution) who is also something of an iconoclast. As a destroyer of religious imagery, Barker set out with his gripping teleplay, Pity in History, (click here for the gripping first scene starring the late great Alan Rickman) to utilize a 17th Century Civil War as a theoretical backdrop to examine art, social class, war, religion, and patriotism in the age of Thatcherism in England. The Potomac theater Project (PTP/NYC) has taken this funny and engaging BBC teleplay and updated it to the present in order to not only, kick start their 31st season at Atlantic Stage II Theater, but also dive into the dilemmas and postures of politics and religion in our current world order. As directed by Richard Romagnoli, this remarkably funny and challenging examination of competing ideologies throws a band of modern geared-up soldiers (costume design by Danielle Nieves) fighting in the name of God, guided by a high-minded chaplain (a strong Chrisopher Marshall), and places them inside a cathedral of some sort filled to the brim with art and sculpture. The smart and utilitarian design by Mark Evancho with lighting by Hallie Zieselman and sound by Cormac Bluestone works remarkably well illuminating conflict and the contradiction that exists between spiritually-influenced high art and wars that use God as their centerpiece.