Refuge of Lies
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
September 12, 2008
Refuge of Lies is a play by Ron Reed about Rudi, a Nazi collaborator, and Simon, a Nazi-hunting journalist, 50 years after the war. Rudi has become a devout Mennonite and a changed person, but Simon still thinks the now-old man should be made to answer for what he did. Though billed as a "Hitchcock-like thriller," the two-act play states most of its arguments and facts up front, leaving relatively little to be discovered as it progresses.
The play begins with Rudi and his wife Nettie playing cards with another older couple, their good friends Conrad and Hanni. Rudi wins (because he's always lucky) and then says he's going to get coffee, returning a few seconds later without either the coffee or a memory of saying he was going to get it. The women go in and get it while Conrad makes an anti-Semitic comment. Later on, we also meet Pastor Jake as well as Nettie's pastor father by means of flashback. Everyone has nothing but wonderful things to say about Rudi—how nice, giving, and loving he is.
Everyone, that is, except for Simon who has come from Holland to expose Rudi for his war crimes. When Simon's niece Rachel comes to visit, she tells her uncle that Rudi seems like such a nice old man and couldn't possibly be a Nazi collaborator. But Simon keeps at it as an increasingly paranoid Rudi starts to lose his grip on reality. He hears knocking constantly (a little too "Tell Tale Heart" for my taste) and sees people who are not there.
While many lovely words are said about Rudi, we don't actually see him do anything exceptional, nor does he come across in the play as being particularly nice or good, only devout and paranoid. He constantly brings up his baptism (in Paraguay, after he fled Holland and the life sentence awaiting him) and how that washed him of his sins. Actor Richard Mawe is very convincing as Rudi, as is Lorraine Serabian as the loyal wife who deliberately turned a blind eye to her husband's past. Arthur Pellman, John Knauss, Drew Dix, and Joanne Joseph (as the fairly clueless, but very warm and lovely Hanni) create a very strong supporting cast, offering believable performances and realistic accents.
The part of Rachel, Simon's niece, however, is very problematic. First, actress Libby Skala seems much older than the just-out-of-college character. Second, though her grandparents died in the Holocaust, Rachel is immediately willing to side against her uncle and protect an old man who committed unspeakable acts. If her reasoning where more substantiated, this could perhaps be a very interesting angle, but it appears to be more out of caprice and stubbornness.
The set is designed by Rebecca Ferguson and is equipped with four doors and a curtained-off area that is used as a shadow screen. Director Steve Day uses the set well, allowing scenes to overlap so as to avoid blackouts. However, the shadow area sometimes appears to be the bathroom and other times the attic, which is a little confusing. There are also some small details that take us out of the action (if Rudi is so paranoid and always thinks people are knocking at the door, then why doesn't he ever lock it?). Despite these hiccups and some script problems, the two-and-a-half-hour play does not drag and does cause a person to answer for themselves whether a person is always accountable for their actions or if you can be washed of your sins.