The Retributionists

  • Date:
    September 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall


    A review by Tulis McCall

    During the second act of this show you will hear a lot of coughing, which is not a good sign. It means the audience is disconnected from the performance. As well they should be.

    The Retributionists is based on a true story, so already we are in dodgy territory. Life is life, and its translation to the stage often tries to tell �the truth� (as in Irena�s Vow) rather than tell a good story. But, Daniel Goldberg, to his credit, has gone in the other direction and used fact for the slenderest of threads to which he tethers his tale.

    In 1946, someone slipped some arsenic into the bread served at Nuremberg and nearly 2500 of the 15,000 prisoners got pretty darn sick. The suspect was �a polish displaced person who was said to have been �associated in a similar case before,� and to have fled mysteriously from the area.� Goldfarb took this idea and expanded it big time. What if, instead of this being the primary action, there was a larger plot to, not just make people ill, but to kill them. And what if killing a few thousand prisoners was merely the servant to the real goal, which was to kill millions. Millions of German citizens, adults and children, who were not necessarily guilty of murdering the Jews, but were guilty of letting it happen. It was to be one German for every Jew who was killed.

    This is the plot is hatched by Dov Kaplinsky (Adam Driver) who during the war refused to follow the advice of elders and instead became part of the resistance hiding in the woods for years. The end of the war has not brought enough punishment down on the Germans. The only way to make them pay is to seek retribution. While living in the woods he is part of a trinity relationship with Anika Stoller (Margarita Levieva) and Dinchka Fried (Cristin Milioti). They foment the idea and plan to carry it out after the war.

    When Plan A � the mass poisoning - goes south in the first act, we have the promise of Plan B at Nuremberg to cling to. But having set up the first act with such high stakes, Goldfarb fails to deliver the goods in the second. We watch the tale unfold slowly and deliberately, and the suspense is only realized in the final few scenes. By then, however, it is too little too late. We have lost interest in the journey because the promised destination never actually arrives.

    This production does have its excellent moments, and it is aided by the very fine performances of Adam Driver and Cristin Milioti. These two actors not only have scenes where the writing is at its best, they both have the chops to make the material crackle. But the production is also hobbled in the extreme by the performance of Margarita Levieva (Anika), who seems to have skipped Acting 101 and gone straight to performing. She appears to be in way over her head here. This is especially troublesome because Anika is critical not only to the story, but to the plot. It is she who encourages and supports what must be done. She is the one with the fire in the belly, but as played by Levieva, there is more petulance than perfidy.

    It is an intriguing premise and gives a new perspective to the war � namely that it didn�t end when it ended. Goldfarb is skilled at giving the facts within the dialogue, but in straying so far from the original tale, he ended up mired.

    Tulis McCall


    What the press had to say.....

    "the play is a boring bust."
    Charles Isherwood
    New York Times

    "B-movie script ..., tone-deaf direction..., and uniformly overheated performances,"
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "The hideous Playbill cover is a warning sign"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "End-of-line appellations like "my love" and "my darling" smother the play like a paprika carpet bomb. And overacting reigns."
    Leonard Jacobs
    Back Stage

    "exhausting, unsatisfying theater."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "inert production, which is further hindered by a wooden performance in a key role."
    David Rooney
    Variety