By Roz Friedman
Writing a play is tricky; one can have a good plot full of potential, but it takes so many elements to bring it to life. The Retributionists, directed by Leigh Silverman, enjoying a short run at Playwrights Horizons, is an example of this. Playwright Daniel Goldfarb has taken what seems to be a compelling story and made it dull: a band of Jews in Europe in 1946, at the end of WWII, decide that they want to avenge the horrendous deaths of their people. They have two unrealistic plans, A and B, to poison and kill as many Germans as possible all at once. This is a fictional interpretation based on a true story which I, and, I am sure, many are not familiar with. I saw this play on Saturday, Sept 12th when it was still in previews. There was very little time for rehearsal, so the erratic pacing in some of the scenes, and awkward acting might very well be a result of those limitations. That said there were positive qualities in the production that deserve mention.
Act One of this two-hour with one intermission work takes place in Paris in a hotel room, dominated by a large bed and overlooking Notre Dame. Anika Stoller, played well by Magarita Levieva, who was a member of the Russian rhythmic gymnastics Olympic team, is primping, obviously waiting for a lover. The young man in question is Jascha; blond and good-looking, but missing fingers, he is acted passionately by Adam Rothenberg. The two have not seen each other in years. Although he knows Anika is engaged to their leader, Dov, Jascha wants to resume his intimate relationship with her. Anika is only focused on eating the pastries he has brought her, while waiting for the all–important call from Dov, who, implementing Plan A, is on a train to Germany with a suitcase of Cyanide. With him is Dinchka, who has loved him since they were fighting in the forest together. Cristin Milioti is terribly convincing as this young woman who has been spurned by both Anika and Dov, and cannot sleep. Dov still wants to have a fling with Dinchka; she is only interested in asking the most telling question: Is it right to kill children, now that the war is over. Dov, a part Adam Driver invests with strength, believes fervently that this is the ideal.
When Dov is arrested, Anika, in order to get Jascha to carry out Plan B and take an all- important job in a bakery, promises she will marry him. The first scene of the second act harkens back to 1943 and The Forest. It is an odd juxtaposition, which gives us an insight into the ménage a trois of Dov, Anika, and Dinchka, something one does not usually see in a Holocaust tale and did not enjoy. From there we leap to the bakery in Nuremberg, where Jascha befriends one of the women, paints the poison on loaves of bread, and escapes. The end is a sad one; Jascha returns to find his Anika married to Dov and pregnant. Not what he had risked his life for. Anika is furious, because the poison sickened but did not kill its intended victims. Dov is reduced to tears, outraged by these events, realizing that hard-hearted Anika is a trickster. Dinchka has the last word in a letter of hope sent from a kibbutz in Palestine. Tom Kitt’s Original Music is probably the best thing in the show. The Retributionists will play only through September 27th
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO