Moscow Retreats: Nicholson Drama to Close on Broadway Feb. 29

By Robert Simonson
February 4, 2004

Retreat from Moscow, the William Nicholson drama starring John Lithgow and Eileen Atkins, will close at the Booth Theatre on Feb. 29. It will have played 24 previews and 147 performances.



Moscow is the third Broadway show to announce its closing within the last three days, following Never Gonna Dance and Gypsy. The announcement was not unexpected, however. On a recent WNYC radio interview, Atkins — who co-stars in the three-person drama with 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."

Moscow opened to a tepid review in the New York Times, but found support at The New York Post and The New Yorker.

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.