The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) has selected two Howard Barker plays for their 29th Season. PTP/NYC is a remarkable theatre collective that has always been willing to take risks in presenting challenging plays in repertory. This 2015 Season is no exception. Mr. Barker’s “Scenes from an Execution” is brilliant and the production at Atlantic Stage 2 is as scintillating as it is challenging. The playwright’s “Judith: A Parting from the Body” (1992) unfortunately does not fare as well.
Mr. Barker’s “Judith” is a retelling of the story of the Israelite widow Judith (hero of the deuterocanonical “Book of Judith) who subverts the Assyrian general Holofernes’s attempt to destroy Israel by entering his tent with her maid, seducing him, then cutting off his head.
Retellings are difficult theatre pieces (or poems or novels). When they are successful they are remarkable; however, when they fall short the results can be frustrating for the audience and for the actors. Unfortunately, Howard Barker’s retelling of the story of Judith falls in the latter category.
Pamela J. Gray (Judith), Alex Draper (Holofernes), and Patricia Buckley (The Servant) seem, even under Richard Romagnoli’s usually energetic direction, to be adrift on stage. Ms. Gray and Mr. Draper were splendid in “Scenes from an Execution.” Here they both seem tepid and bored. And despite the importance and the urgency of the historical Judith’s mission, one could care less whether Barker’s Judith succeeds or not, undresses or not, succumbs to her suitor or not. The characters in this retelling are flat and uninteresting. Perhaps the piece is just too dated. Judith’s “language” is not shocking or repulsive, just out of place.
The Potomac Theatre Project is one of the treasures of the American theatre scene and it is disappointing to not be able to find merit in their “Judith.” But please be sure to see “Scenes from an Execution” before it closes on Sunday August 9.
Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35, $20 for students and seniors, $17.50 for previews, and can be purchased online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visit PTPNYC.org, “Follow” on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and ‘Like” them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256. Production photos by Stan Barouh. Running time is 55 minutes.