The Dayton Playhouse marks a refreshing return to serious drama with a beautifully commendable presentation of William Nicholson’s quietly compelling British marital study “The Retreat from Moscow.”
Nominated for three 2004 Tony Awards including Best Play, “Retreat” depicts the heartbreaking disintegration of the 33-year marriage between Edward, a history professor obsessed with Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow, and Alice, a poetry aficionado unable to cope with reality. Jamie, Edward and Alice’s only child, is predictably caught in the emotional crossfire to assess his parents’ differing viewpoints without taking sides. Nicholson (“Shadowlands”) uses the titular history lesson as a striking metaphor for survival, particularly as Edward chooses to seek love in the arms of another woman while Alice tries her best to simply move on.
Chuck Larkowski is perfectly cast and touching as the meek, wounded Edward who never really felt comfortable with or respected by Alice. There’s no second guessing as to whether or not Edward has reached the point of no return because Larkowski never wavers in the character’s determination or desires. You may not agree with Edward’s infidelity, but there’s no denying the visceral impact stemming from understanding his point of view, which is brilliantly expressed from start to finish. At the same rate, Jennifer Lockwood doesn’t miss a beat as the fiery, bewildered Alice, who feels her marriage is “struggling to be born” after three decades when faced with its demise. Lockwood could have played her juicy, antagonistic role as a relentlessly emotional train wreck, but wisely avoids the sentimental trap. On the contrary, she fills her Alice’s distressing nature with enough underlying resilience to convey the notion that she will not be entirely defeated even as she faces living alone. Lockwood is particularly strong when addressing Alice’s shock of hearing Edward disregard the many years of marriage she helped build. Matthew Lindsay is an amiable Jamie, but could have treated the character’s prized, beloved status in the sight of his parents with more emotive velocity instead of understated indifference.
Director Dodie Lockwood, providing a seamlessly fluid experience with a slightly haunting allure and a few genuine moments of levity, never allows her cast to leave the stage. Her wonderfully astute decision effectively magnetizes the family dynamics at hand with inescapably palpable potency.
“The Retreat from Moscow” continues through April 21 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $17 for adults and $15for seniors and students. Call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.daytonplayhouse.org.