When icon-busting is overdone: a British import Off Broadway; No End of Blame ''Scenes of Overcoming,'' by Howard Barker. Directed by Walton Jones.
New York — Fanatics and iconoclasts are sometimes appreciated in retrospect. Meanwhile, they can make life hard on themselves and others. Such is the case with cartoonist Bela Veracek (Michael Cristofer), the antihero of the new British import at the Manhattan Theater Club. Spanning more than five decades, Howard Barker's ''No End of Blame'' dramatizes the perilous life and difficult times of an anti-establishment Hungarian determined to employ his fierce satirical drawings to tell the truth as he sees it.
Having survived World War I and postwar Hungarian factionalism, Bela is expelled from his Budapest art school over a cartoon. With his painter friend Grigor (Joe Grifasi) and girlfriend Ilona (Caitlin Clarke), Bela sets out for the Soviet Union. Thereafter, the play that Mr. Barker has subtitled ''Scenes of Overcoming'' pits the uncompromising cartoonist against the bureaucratic establishments of Russia and then of Britain.
In its simplistic diatribes ''No End of Blame'' makes no distinction between Stalinist oppression and the practice of democracy under the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill. After a brush with official censorship, Bela serves for a number of years as cartoonist ''Vera'' on a national newspaper. Fired at 75 by an unamused press lord, he attempts suicide and is committed to a mental institution where old friend Grigor is also a patient.
Mr. Barker employs the fragmentary and episodic plot mainly to satirize the jargon and attitudes of Communist Party hacks, left-wing study groups, Whitehall civil servants, and other of Bela's enemies. The trouble with ''No End of Blame'' as a polemic drama is that the opposition, in whatever guise, is invariably pictured as stupid, insincere, craven, corrupt, etc. The voluble Bela tells the study group: ''I love to draw the world. I hate the world.'' Which sums up his misanthropy succinctly enough.
Mr. Cristofer plays the cartoonist with mordant concentration. The actor does not age physically, leaving an impression not so much of development as of deterioration. The performance as a whole, under Walton Jones's direction, is commendably sharp, with most actors taking more than one role. The abstract setting by Tony Straiges consists of a white background curving forward to stage level. Lighting designer Donald Edmond Thomas's projections of Vera cartoons by Gerald Scarfe and Grigor drawings by Clare Shenstone complete the scenic impressions. Christa Scholtz created the large wardrobe of costumes.