The Retreat from Moscow
The Retreat from Moscow, now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., is a quietly devastating portrait of a disintegrating marriage. What keeps William Nicholson’s semi-autobiographical drama affecting without being depressing are the thoughtful performances of Rick Foucheux and Carol Mayo Jenkins and the sensitive direction of James Edmondson.
Nicholson’s play, a nominee for the Tony Award in 2004, examines how the smallest actions can have unanticipated consequences when two people share their lives. Edward (Foucheux), a teacher, and Alice (Jenkins), who is editing an anthology of poetry, knew they were opposites in personality when they married 33 years earlier – he the shy academic, she outgoing and intensely empathetic. Now, after all this time and one son, Jamie (Tim Getman), they are beginning to admit to the low-level friction they have felt for years. They realize that they are spending most of their time as a couple trying to avoid confrontation with each other.
What does the title mean? Edward is fascinated with the history of Napoleon’s assault on Moscow and the retreat of his soldiers, who fought to survive while slowly freezing to death and ignoring those around them. Alice sees parallels between the destruction of an army and the gradual collapse of a marriage, finding in both the spiritual death that comes from a loss of faith, both in God and in other people.
Foucheux portrays Edward as a defeated man slumped in a worn, overstuffed armchair, irritable or passive as Alice attempts to goad him into reacting to something. As he realizes that he has other options in his life, and she becomes more desperate and unable to cope, their interactions become painful yet compelling to watch, as conveyed delicately through Edmondson’s direction.
In contrast, Jenkins brings out the feverish side of Alice’s personality, which comes to the surface when she is forced to face the unthinkable. Alice falls prey to magical thinking, believing that she can somehow will Edward to return to their life together, yet knowing that she had felt stifled in their marriage and needs the genuine communication from a partner that she had not been getting from him.
Getman is also affecting as an adult child faced with issues of trust and betrayal he never expected to have to face. Jamie is left wondering how he can continue to love both of his parents without hurting one or the other.
Bill Clarke’s scenic design emphasizes the insularity of Edward and Alice’s marriage through a constricted English living room and kitchen, all faded upholstery and painted wooden cupboards. Daniel MacLean Wagner’s lighting design and Matthew M. Nielson’s sound design add to the sense of a once comfortable life that has become claustrophobic.
To emphasize the intense ties among the members of the family, Edmondson never allows any of the actors to leave the stage; an actor who is not in a scene simply stands to one side, out of the light, or sits on a conveniently placed stool.
Round House Theatre