New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Refuge of Lies"
Lion Theatre, Manhattan

It is a theme worthy of thought—again and again. Do we go on punishing wrong-doers into their old age? Is ours a God of mercy or a God of vengeance? Do we punish an evil deed long after it is history?

Specifically, in “Refuge of Lies,” an off-Broadway drama now playing at the Lion Theatre, a former Nazi is pursued by a Jewish reporter. Both are Dutch (or formerly Dutch). The former, one Rudi Vanderwaal, had collaborated with the Nazis in occupied Holland, escaped to Paraguay after the War, and finally settled in Canada, where he lived quietly as a professor for many years.

Playwright Ron Reed’s piece is based on the true story of one Jacob Luitjens, a Nazi collaborator who served in the SS-appointed Dutch land guard. Convicted after the War, he escaped punishment by fleeing to Paraguay and settling in a thriving Mennonite community. In 1961 Luitjens moved to Vancouver, where he became a respected professor of botany at the University of British Columbia, and where he lived peacefully for 22 years until discovered by reporter Jack Kooistra. After eight years of court battles, the Canadian government extradited Luitjens to the Netherlands, where he finally stood trial.

The theme (if not the specific story) is familiar to Jewish theatergoers, having been explored effectively in other similar plays. Yet it warrants further exploration. This time around, the playwright has developed a strong piece, but one which calls for further work. “Refuge of Lies” tends to be repetitious, as Vanderwaal is attacked and defended ad infinitum. (Is it the playwright or director Steve Day who is responsible for the tedious device of endless door-banging? Enough already, with the door-banging!)

Yet Reed creates a believable, human and frail Rudi for whom one inevitably feels some sympathy. He is haunted by the past, slowly going mad as his nemesis pursues him. The playwright has created, not a polemic, a straightforward argument, but a piece which digs into the contradictions of human nature. Reed forces us to consider the issues of morality--questions of right and wrong, good and evil, revenge and justice.

Director Day has recruited a first-class cast, which includes fine performances from Richard Mawe as the hapless Rudi and Drew Dix as his pursuer. Lorraine Serabian gives an extraordinary portrayal of Rudi’s wife, and strong supportive roles are forthcoming from John Knauss, Libby Skala, Joanne Joseph, and Arthur Pellman.

In all, a fine addition to the Holocaust canon, but Reed should take “Refuge of Lies” back to the drawing board for further honing.

-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 15, 2008

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