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A CurtainUp Review
Refuge of Lies
Plays about the Holocaust explore the nature of guilt, retribution, forgiveness, denial, shame, redemption and much, much more. The newest entry into this crowded field is Ron Reed's Refuge of Lies, making its premiere at Theatre Row under the direction of Steve Day. It is a play so packed with moral nuance it just about collapses under its own weight.
Rudi Vanderwaal (Richard Mawe) is a haunted man. He is tracked down by the not very subtly named Simon (Drew Dix), a Jewish newspaperman who believes that back in their native Netherlands Rudi collaborated with the Nazis, indirectly causing the death of many of Simon's relatives.
Rudi escaped punishment by changing his name, fleeing to Paraguay and entering Canada under cover of his false identity. He has eased his conscience by turning to the church, prayer and the holy sacraments, but not confession. Even his wife, Netty (Lorraine Serabian), does not know about his past. Still Rudi is tormented by memories that will not leave him in peace.
Simon, too, is harassed, both by his own doubts and his niece Rachel (Libby Skala), who says she has come to keep him company but spends most of the time needling him. The young woman.s impassioned questioning of Simon's motives and morality might have been compelling if Skala did not express herself in such a whiny monotone.
To make sure nothing is neglected in his moral and intellectual explorations, Reed invests his play with a Hassidic ghost, a friend who is a Nazi sympathizer (Arthur Pellman) and two clergymen (one in Paraguay, where Rudi turned to Christianity, and another Rudiís spiritual advisor in Canada). Both are played by John Knauss. Rudiís relationship with any one of these characters is filled with enough tension to comprise a play in itself.
Refuge of Lies might have survived its overly ambitious plotting and unnecessary characters if Day had not compounded Reedís lack of restraint with his own excessive use of dramatic effects. Incessant banging on doors, deafening bursts of unexplained sound and dramatic back lighting abound. At any moment one expects Bela Lugosi to appear.
Day might have better spent his time and energy figuring out more effective ways of changing scenes so the actors donít seem about to bump into each other during transitions. He also might have created different spaces within Rebecca Fergusonís unit set to differentiate past from present, dream from reality, and distinguish the various settings in which the action of the play occurs.
Through it all, Mawe and Serabian carry on, totally believable against all odds. Mawe makes Rudiís turmoil palpable and his suffering painful. Serabian is heartrending as a good woman in love with a man who is not quite what she thought him to be. Itís too bad they have to compete with so much nonessential business.
Like so many plays about the Holocaust, Refuge of Lies is based on a true story. Itís hard not to wonder whether the truth did not have enough inherent drama without silly inventions.