Refuge of Lies puts little dramatic meat on thematic bones

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      Written and directed by Ron Reed. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Saturday, April 10. Continues until May 1

      Nazi hunters search for Nazis and sometimes find them. In Refuge of Lies, playwright Ron Reed searches for drama but it eludes him.

      Reed took the inspiration for Refuge of Lies from the story of Jacob Luitjens, a professor of botany at UBC who was exposed as a Nazi collaborator in 1992. Like Luitjens, Reed’s protagonist Rudi Vanderwaal is a Dutch collaborator, a retired university professor, and a devout Mennonite. His wife, his friends, and his pastor all say that Rudi is a good man.

      The play asks many questions. What’s to be gained from punishing a 72-year-old for crimes he committed a lifetime ago? Is it enough for a sinner to reconcile with God, or must he also pay a debt to society? What’s the difference between justice and revenge?

      Unfortunately, Reed puts too little dramatic meat on these thematic bones. For starters, he doesn’t give us enough information about what Rudi did. In a flashback to World War II, we see him push a Jewish man’s head underwater to force him to reveal where he’s hiding other Jews. But we’ve never met the guy Rudi is torturing or the people that Rudi is trying to find, so they are abstract victims and Rudi’s act is an abstract sin. Frankly, in this age of large-scale, government-sanctioned torture, Rudi’s single offence feels relatively minor, especially since Reed presents the wartime Rudi as little more than a frightened boy who wants to please his anti-Semitic father. The real-life Luitjens was nicknamed the Terror of Roden, a moniker Reed’s protagonist clearly wouldn’t qualify for.

      The argument that Rudi should be forgiven is as weak as the argument that he should be punished. Mostly, Rudi avoids responsibility, which makes it hard to entertain absolution.

      Playwright Reed also directs, and he gets some nice work out of his actors. Howard Siegel delivers a subtly passionate performance as Simon Katzman, the guy who tracks Rudi down, and Anthony F. Ingram offers detailed and distinct portraits of two different pastors. Anna Hagan is effectively understated as Rudi’s wife, Netty, and Terence Kelly is always emotionally credible as Rudi. Hagan and Kelly are both part of this production’s multiparty pileup of Dutch accents, however. Kelly’s accent takes several side trips to Ireland.

      Designer Lauchlin Johnston offers a handsome set, but he tries too hard to make the play’s multiple locations naturalistic, so the actors spend a lot of time futzing around with scene changes. Still, one element of the design is unconditionally inspired: the floor and walls of the set are covered with photographs, presumably of Dutch Jews.


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      Sunday Susan

      Apr 22, 2010 at 4:03pm

      I saw the play last night, and came away moved. The director has made brilliant use of this confined space, and the acting is convincing at every turn. The audience participates in the unfolding dilemma of how to fit a meaningful punishment to a heinous crime when it is far in the past and the putative perpetrator is a peaceable and increasingly befuddled old man.
      Playwright Ron Reed skilfully weaves each distinct and unreconcilable point of view into a fabric - the same fabric of which society is composed. Like citizens the world over who wrestle with this question, the fabric struggles to remain intact in the face of intractible and contradictory forces.


      Apr 23, 2010 at 7:28am

      Thomas said hiself that "they are abstract victims and Rudi’s act is an abstract sin" supporting it by contending that his act feels minor. This point seemed incredibly irrelevant to me, as when this event happened with Luitjen's, I'm sure the public had fairly little knowledge of the actual crimes he committed, whether they knew it or not. Reed is emphasizing the lack of knowledge, and heightened confusion as a member of the public to further question the justification of Vernor's condemnation. It fits perfectly.

      One of the key questions Refuge asked me is: When is a man free of his sins with God, and should that man be brought to social justice when he is in fact, washed of his sins?