Redemption, Faith and Love
“I’ve got kids. I can’t afford integrity.”
“The duty of the storyteller is to make sense of the world we live in.”
Jason Sherman’s play The Retreat is receiving its European premiere at the Finborough, after 27 years when it was acclaimed in his native Canada. It is about Rachel Benjamin (Jill Winternitz) a Canadian Jewish school teacher from Toronto who has ambitions to be a screenwriter. She has been asked to apologise at school after offence was taken regarding her remarks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before she has to make a decision she goes on a screenwriting course called The Retreat.
Her critical thinking tutor on The Retreat is also from Toronto which has one of the largest Jewish communities outside Israel and the USA after 40,000 Holocaust survivors moved there. He is David Fine (Max Rinehart) who looks not unlike the handsome Aidan Turner. David Fine is in a screenwriting, film producing partnership with Jeff Bloom (Michael Feldsher). Jeff wants David to work on a script for a blatantly commercial teen horror movie but David is resisting because he is more interested in a script sent to him by Rachel.
Early on in the play David says there are only three stories, “the search for redemption, the search for faith and the search for love”. Rachel’s script is set in 1665 about a rabbi who is thought to be the actual Messiah and who develops hundreds of Kabbalah followers but who is captured by agents of the Ottoman Empire and is given the choice of death or conversion to Islam. While David’s interest in Rachel is initially literary, it soon becomes sexual and of course the residential retreat in Calgary provides the opportunity for David away from his wife and two children.
We flash back to Rachel and her elderly father Wolf Benjamin (Jonathan Tafler) who is dying and wishing to see Jerusalem again before he dies. He is encouraging Rachel to find a husband and produce a child. Rachel’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian war is so very different to her father’s. He went to fight for the new state of Israel in the 1940s and blew up train tracks used by the Palestinians. He is intractable in his defence of the West Bank settlers whom Rachel questions, “Why are they not called Israeli terrorists?” It is the age old issue that any pro-Palestinian stance can be interpreted as anti-Semitic whereas it may be about anti-Israeli expansion.
You will start to see which of his three story themes are being developed in The Retreat. David seeks redemption in making movies that are more moral than making box office profits, Rachel is questioning her faith and together they search for love. As Rachel moves David’s cast off trousers, his wallet falls out and in it a picture of his wife and two children. We knew he was married as in an earlier scene he was avoiding phone calls from his wife. We later discover that Jennifer, David’s wife was previously Jeff’s girlfriend just to complicate the love quadrangle.
The performances are believable and the writing is ambitious with complex issues, maybe too many for one play. I love the dedication the Finborough shows to Canadian plays, several of which are really memorable.
Written by Jason Sherman
Directed by Emma Jude Harris
Director: Emma Jude Harris
Designer: Alice Whitehead
Lighting Designer: Ben Jacobs
Projection Designer: Cheng Keng
Running Time: Two hours 45
minutes including an interval
Booking to 13th May 2023
118 Finborough Road
Box Office: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Finborough
on 27th April 2023