Atkins: Retreat From Moscow to Close in March

By Andrew Gans
and Robert Simonson
January 26, 2004

William Nicholson's terse, tough marriage play The Retreat From Moscow will likely close in March.



On a recent WNYC radio interview, Eileen Atkins — who co-stars in the three-person drama with John Lithgow and Ben Chaplin — said, "All our contracts finish on February 28, but last night they kind of begged us to go on. . . . The three of us finally made a compromise and said — because we're all tired and we have other things to do and we want breaks — we may go on for another two weeks." That would bring the closing date to March 14.

A spokesman for the show confirmed the cast's contracts were reaching their end, and negotiations were underway.

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.

The Retreat From Moscow plays the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street.