Though the drama's ruminative and regretful tone and John Lee Beatty's branch-strewn set are Chekhovian in tone, the title of Nicholson's play has nothing to do with the metropolis to which Chekhov's three sisters longed to travel. Rather, it refers to Napoleon's horribly costly invasion of Russia, in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers were lost. Lithgow's character, the reticent Edward, is reading a book on the subject, and the army's retreat becomes a metaphor for his ruptured marriage to Alice, played by Eileen Atkins.
Alice is an exacting and opinionated woman who is preparing a new anthology of poetry, the largest chapter of which is titled "Lost Love." Soon she discovers that lost is just the word for her husband's love and their 33-year marriage. Edward is a mild, repressed teacher who likes nothing better than to do his daily crossword and wishes his wife would stop exhorting him to talk to her and examine their marriage. Matters come to a head when Edward meets another woman and works up the courage to leave Alice. The decision floors his wife, an observant Catholic who equates divorce with murder. Meanwhile, their son, played by Ben Chaplin, tries to remain strong while his family's foundation crumbles.
The spare play—which calls for only a few pieces of furniture and an artful use of lighting—is partly based on the breakup of the British Nicholson's own parents. Dan Sullivan directs.
Retreat From Moscow began its life at England's Chichester Festival in 2000. It is Nicholson's first Broadway credit since Shadowlands, which starred Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Alexander in 1991. His absence from the stage since Shadowlands can be credited to an active career in screenwriting. After penning the script to the film of "Shadowlands," he wrote "Nell," "First Knight," "Grey Owl" and, interestingly, "Gladiator." He began his career as a television producer of documentary films.
Stage and screen star John Lithgow comes to Moscow from the short-lived 2002 musical Sweet Smell of Success, for which he won a Tony Award. He won his first Tony for his work in 1973's The Changing Room, one of many British plays in his past. He also received Tony nominations for Requiem for a Heavyweight and M. Butterfly. Lithgow won three Emmy Awards for his work on the television sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun,” and he garnered two Academy Award nominations for his performances in “The World According to Garp” and “Terms of Endearment.” Atkins has appeared often on stages in London and New York. Most recently, she acted in The Unexpected Man Off-Broadway. She performed in and wrote two plays in which she played Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own, a solo show, and Vita and Virginia with Vanessa Redgrave. On Broadway, her credits stretch from 1966's The Killing of Sister George to 1995's Indiscretions. She was nominated for a Tony Award for both, as well as 1972's Vivat! Vivat Regina!
Chaplin is best known for such films as "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" and “The Thin Red Line.”
Susan Quint Gallin, Stuart Thompson, Ron Kastner, True Love Productions, May Lu Roffe and Jam Theatricals produce Moscow.