Richard Romagnoli and his long-time acting collaborators Robert Emmet Lunney and Alex Draper give breath to two powerfully political Howard Barker poems, but although the evening is just under an hour in length, it's a taxing affair. Poetry isn't easy, no matter how good the reader (or performer), and while certain things land neatly on the air, highlighted by a well-placed shaft of light or a neatly blocked pivot of a foot on stage to match the foot in the text, Gary the Thief and, to a lesser extent, PLEVNA: Meditations on Hatred, feel more compelling on the page than in the theater. These are texts that cry out, after all, to be studied: not momentarily glimpsed. And in that respect, lumping two disparate poems together--while perhaps necessary to call it an evening of theater--doesn't give one enough time to dwell on what has been presented.
That said--and with my personal disclaimer about not fully appreciating poetry thrown out there--Barker's writing is as meaty as ever, even severed from the often-more-dramatic context of a scene or the full-throated build of a character. Ironically, Gary the Thief--which reads as a stylized monologue from Lunney, showing how the misanthropic Gary is born ("a shrapnel of abuse/through which the infant crawls"), thieves ("your greed dwarfs my offense/your violence staggers the ropes of the globe"), is arrested, and is reborn within the system ("I pilfer your language/I steal your respect")--is the more difficult text. Draper's glib, business-like presentation of PLEVNA, meanwhile, works as a series of wry observations about the nature of violence in the world--filled with opinion, yes, but apart from having a plot or clear character: "Hatred was described as an infection/and murders happened like a rash" and "The worst catastrophe is not to die/but to lose stock," or the brilliant conclusion: "The possibility hate is intrinsic/the possibility hate waits to be born with every breath.../Explains its durability among so much civility."
For what it's worth, both actors give tremendous performances, nailing the necessary (and tricky) leaps and reversals of the best modern poems. The digressions aren't buried in the lead, nor are they whispered as asides: they are presented as Barker would have wanted them, as arguments--his style is Wrestling, always Wrestling--and though much may be consciously missed, perhaps it's our unconscious he's trying to hit.