Friday, September 18, 2009

Holocaust Soap Opera

The Retributionists
Written by Daniel Goldfarb

Directed by Leigh Silverman

Starring Adam Driver, Margarita Levieva, Cristin Milioti, Adam Rothenberg

August 21-September 27, 2009

Playwrights Horizons

416 West 42nd Street

Based on a true story, Adam Goldfarb’s The Retributionists, a muddled and middling drama with real possibilities, is irreparably damaged by its author’s inability to create plausible characters, smart dialogue and captivating situations. Instead, we’re left with a play that sits inert for its two hours onstage.

In 1946, a group of young Jewish men and women plot revenge with the motto “a German for every Jew,” hatching plans to inflict mortal damage on German civilians. We watch four of these people: 21-year-old Anika; her former lover, the 30ish and Aryan-looking Jascha; her current lover, Dov, the 29-year-old head of the group; and the 20-year-old Dinchka, a former lover of Dov’s. Anika meets Jascha in Paris to give him Dov’s marching orders in case the primary plot—underway with Dov and Dinchka on a train to Germany with a suitcase full of poison—is unsuccessful.

Throughout the play, the quartet couples and uncouples, shout at and embrace each other, and discuss the war’s horrors and their hopes for the future. Unfortunately, Goldfarb fails to make any of this compelling because he has taken on more than he can handle. If it was done as a film, there would be more realistic settings and a evocation of the WWII era, which Leigh Silverman’s stolid staging never achieves. Further undermining the play’s credibility is the playwright’s tin ear for dialogue; take this conversation between Anika and Dov after their plot seemingly succeeds: “I couldn’t have done it without you”—“Of course you could, my amazing husband. You can do anything”—“I love you”—“Keep reading my love.” Daytime soap operas sound less gooey.

Characterizations are on the same routine level: we never see why these people attempt such retribution aside from the fact that they survived the war. That may well be the reason, but Goldfarb never makes anything clear or convincing. Similarly, he touches on an intriguing wartime ménage a trois among Dov, Anika and Dinchka, which Dinchka wants to continue: she misses that era’s insanity and can’t handle the return to “civilized” life. But Goldfarb merely brings up then drops this potentially involving if dicey subject.

The actors are not to blame, since they are defeated by Goldfarb’s paper-thin characters. Only Margarita Levieva’s Anika is able to occasionally break through the morass. As it stands, The Retributionists adds little to a still-relevant subject.
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