Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Refuge of Lies

Rudi (Richard Mawe) and the mysterious figure.

A Compelling Play Gets Lost in the Staging

By Lauren Yarger
There’s a thought-provoking play being presented at the Lion’s Theater in New York, but confused staging distracts from the themes explored in “Refuge of Lies” and comes close to turning the production into a farce instead of a probe into the mind of a man haunted by his past.

Inspired in part by true events, Refuge tells the story of Rudi Vanderwaal (Richard Mawe), a converted Mennonite and retired teacher, who is pursued by Jewish reporter Simon Katzman (Drew Dix) who claims Rudi is a Nazi collaborator and not the sweet old man his wife Netty (Lorraine Serabian) and friends Conrad and Hanni (Arthur Pellman/Joanne Joseph) know. Simon’s niece, Rachel (a miscast Libby Skala), questions Simon’s motives and reaches out to Rudi, who is tormented by images from the past and by the mysterious figure of an Orthodox Jew haunting him. He seeks counsel from his pastors (John Knauss, in a duel role as Rudi’s pastors from the past and present) and tries to leave the sins of his youth behind to live a new life as a baptized Christian.

Ensuing are some intriguing exchanges of dialogue raising questions like: are sins forgiven if you hide them and don’t take responsibility for them; are there some crimes so horrible that no punishment fits them; can horror double as justice; are events in the past worth obsessing about if they have been forgotten by those affected; can forgiveness and mercy provide any answers?

At right, Lorraine Serabian, Libby Skala and Drew Dix.

Compelling stuff from Canadian playwright Ron Reed, but the audience spends most of the play asking other questions like: “Why is there a river in the apartment?” “Who is this character?” “Why did these people just turn green?” “What was that noise?” and “Are we in the present now, or back in the past again?”

These distractions come from a confusing timeline and a disjointed “present/past/in Rudi’s mind” concept which prove too complicated for director Steve Day to pull off in the space (and presumably on a Showcase budget).

Rebecca Ferguson designed the set in which a living area serves as everyone’s home and church, with four doors leading to and from unexplained places and through which the characters make endless entrances and exits, most accompanied by a relentlessly loud, scene-shaking “knocking” which goes from being annoying to comical. Other sound effects also are confusing or miss the mark.

A large curtain serves as a window into Rudi and Netty’s bathroom where, surprisingly, a lot of action takes place. The same area, though, also represents a bird coop where Rudi keeps pigeons. The result of using a silhouette effect for both scenes in the same way confuses the audience, which choked back laughter when the pastor twice appeared to enter the bathroom to talk to Rudi and his wife while they were showering (the water sound effect was running, so maybe he did?).

Leaps into the past or into the recesses of Rudi’s mind take place without warning. Moving two chairs apparently means we’ve gone back 50 years in time. Conrad suddenly isn’t Conrad, but Rudi’s father. Eventually we catch on for some repeated scenes: green people (the result of a lighting effect gone awry) plus the pastor with glasses on downstage right equal the past, and the pastor without his glasses downstage left is the present. Other transitions go undetected until part way through the dialogue.

Because we spend so much thought trying to figure out what’s happening, we miss a chance to focus on Reed’s skillful character development and compelling dialogue which examines Simon’s motives, Rudi’s guilt, the real reason behind Conrad’s show of support, Netty’s efforts to come to grips with the truth about her husband and the role of religion in all of this.

It’s too bad, because there’s great purpose here, and commendable intention by the presenting company, Firebone Theatre, whose mission is to produce and develop works that tackle the metaphysical themes of God (fire) and Death (bone).
A portion of the proceeds from the run (through Sept.28) are being donated to charities.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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