The Retreat ★★ Finborough Theatre | Apr 25 - May 13, 2023

Jason Sherman's The Retreat has a lot, probably too much, going on. It is a play that seems designed for the classroom rather than the stage. There is a layering of stories and a lecturing on a variety of subjects that inhibits emotional engagement in the narrative. Ostensibly, the story is about Rachel who wants to be a playwright and goes on a retreat for aspiring writers. She becomes involved with her teacher, writer/producer David, who has a complicated connection with his business partner, Jeff. It all becomes a twisted game of who is manipulating whom and to what ends. This relationship is mirrored in Rachel's play which deals with the life of the 17th Century Jewish mystic, Zvi, and by the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It all becomes a lot to process, and added to this are lessons about playwriting that might apply both to the characters' current situation and to their parts in this fiction. It's all very 'meta'. As Rachel, Jill Winternitz brings a sincerity to her role that is engaging and believable, but Max Rinehart's David came across as wooden and unconvincing. The intention may have been to leave the audience in doubt as to his sincerity but the flirtation/seduction dialogues simply never rang true. Rinehart has some clunky lines to deliver and the romantic scenes just seemed awkward. Michael Feldsher's Jeff was persuasively mercenary and manipulative but the characterisation sometimes bordered on caricature. At times, the tone of this work echoes that of Neil LaBute, but the darkness of Sherman's vision is both more nuanced and more ambiguous. While The Retreat addresses a great many issues, in the end it is a play about playwriting which doesn't really produce an engaging drama.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Ali Wright.

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