The Retributionists @ Playwrights Horizons , New York

cast list
Hamilton Clancy, Adam Driver, Rebecca Henderson, Margarita Levieva, Cristin Milioti, Adam Rothenberg, Lusia Strus

directed by
Leigh Silverman
The Holocaust is over, and a band of Polish Jews is seeking retribution against the Nazi oppressors who made their lives hell as they hid out in occupied forests. It’s 1946, and Jascha finds himself summoned by Anika, his old lover, who has a plan for him to carry out. She’s one of the retributionists, and the group’s leader, Dov Kaplinksy, doesn’t know that she’s already moved on from Plan A to Plan B.

As part of the plan, Jascha will work in a bakery in Nuremberg, learning about the lives of his colleagues and gaining their trust until the day he can convince them to let him lock up, entrusting him with the keys just long enough for him to lace a massive number of loaves of bread with arsenic, hopefully slipping away unharmed.
Daniel Goldfarb’s play The Retributionists is based on a true story, and it’s really a very dramatically-charged idea for a play. His tale of intrigue and past enchantments – both romantic and political – is well-plotted and constantly surprising, aided by a cast that’s mostly skilled despite direction that’s lacking.

As Anika, the character who spends perhaps the most time on stage, Margarita Levieva is is wooden. The actress delivers her lines with a flat air of mystery, as if she’s playing an idea of character rather than inhabiting her role. And though Adam Driver and Cristin Milioti both stand out as Dov and Dinchka (his girl on the side, who was once part of a love triangle also involving Anika – don’t ask), the author’s decision that because “the characters in the play are speaking in their native tongues” they shouldn’t have accents is ultimately distracting, not only because of the inconsistent tone of the dialogue throughout, which vacillates between a strangely modern vernacular and awkwardly formal constructions, but also because of the distinct Brooklyn accent of Adam Rothenberg as Jascha – who seems more like a member of the Corleone family than a retributionist.

Goldfarb’s play ultimately comes across as one that should have gone through just one more polishing draft before hitting the stage. His ideas are mostly complete, and his characters are fully-rounded, but there’s a layer of linguistic inventiveness that’s missing here, leaving the dialogue throughout feeling contrived, awkward, and very much cliched.

It’s a shame the writing doesn’t quite match the top-notch production the play is given. Derek McLane’s doors-and-beds-and-train-compartments set is stylish and effective, well-lit by Peter Kaczorowski. And Tom Kitt’s original music serves the production well, propelling the action forward during its scene changes.

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