The Retreat from Moscow
Northlight Theatre. By William Nicholson. Dir. B.J. Jones. With Rondi Reed, Anderson Matthews, John Hoogenakker.
After watching William Nicholson’s polite but tepid divorce play, it’s easy to fathom how it might have tanked in a Broadway house, which it did in 2003. The script, after all, is only the slightest variation on other drifted-marriage plays. (It’s British to boot; without the accents, the air of faux importance would be lost.) And since people do, in fact, fall out of love with each other after 33 years, it’s even more frustrating that Nicholson’s play doesn’t show us how. Dreary and peppered with sketchy metaphors, the play’s unremarkable under most circumstances.
But in Northlight’s production we have Rondi Reed, the actress with the magical bellows who can breathe fire into the chilliest of stories. Her work here—as Alice, a jilted woman whose overbearing tendencies may have suffocated her husband but who still doesn’t deserve the boot—has nearly surgical precision. Under Jones’s cagey direction, Reed conjures up that rare theatrical animal, a character who actually changes in front of you. As Alice develops a cutting sense of humor about her loss, Reed modulates her performance so that Matthews and Hoogenakker, both deliberately distant as her husband and painfully private son, respectively, resonate more by contrast. Another victory of talent over text.—Christopher Piatt