If the publicity shot for playwright William Nicholson’s Tony-nominated “The Retreat from Moscow”—a family photo ripped down the middle—doesn’t hint at the chilly drama to follow, then director BJ Jones and designer Linda Buchanan’s production leaves little doubt: the austere classical music; the withered trees dangling within the skewed proscenium arch; the Bergmanesque winter hues of the set and costumes. Nonetheless, Northlight’s beautifully observed production radiates with a warm humanity from its truthfulness and sensitivity that will make “The Retreat from Moscow” a gripping experience for any individual who has ever wondered why his parents came together in the first place. Indeed, a lot has been made of this play as a story about marital disintegration. And while it certainly explores that emotional landscape with wit, humor and intelligence through its many scenes from a marriage, Nicholson’s drama but especially Northlight’s production strikes me more as a play about Jamie, the young man caught in the middle. For a play that charts the suffocating marital minutiae that ultimately claims his parents’ happiness (or semblance of happiness), it is interesting to note how little the audience learns about Jamie until the very end. Even his sexuality seems in question until the brief mention of a new girlfriend, of the possible existence of Jamie as a person with a life and not just as his parents’ arbiter, messenger and emotional punching bag, provides the melancholy play with its strongest sliver of hope. John Hoogenakker’s beautifully laconic performance, along with strong turns by Rondi Reed (here in her element as the manipulative but sympathetic matriarch) and Anderson Matthews, makes a retreat from the city to the suburb of Skokie and Northlight’s production well worth the trip. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847)673-6300. Tue 7:30pm/Wed 1pm & 7:30pm/Thu 7:30pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 3pm & 8pm/Sun 2:30 pm & 7pm. $38 – $54. Through June 18.