Review: Refuge of Lies – provides a powerful framework

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Playwright Ron Reed tackles some tough questions in Pacific Theatre’s Refuge of Lies, providing a powerful framework for us to reach deep to find our own answers and the truth within.

According to Reed, Refuge of Lies is inspired by the real-life story of UBC professor Jacob Luitjens who was deported from Canada in 1992 and returned to the Netherlands where he was convicted of war crimes as a Dutch collaborator to the Nazis.  But rather than a strict biographical piece, Reed explores the emotions and questions that were raised in him about Luitjens’ story.

Like Luitjens, Rudi Vanderwaal (Terence Kelly) has tried to escape his past by creating a new life for himself and his wife Netty (Anna Hagan) in Canada.  From all outward appearances Rudi is a different man.  Having sought forgiveness from his god, now, at age 72, he simply wants to forget his past and finish out his days in the relative peace of his new life.  Unfortunately for Rudi, there are those that will not forget and following Rudi’s trail from the Netherlands via Paraguay to Canada, Simon Katzman (Howard Siegel) confronts Rudi with his past.

IRefuge of Liesn one of the more interesting side plots here, Reed has given us the relationship between Nazi-hunter Katzman and his niece Rachel played by Erin Germaine Mahoney (pictured right in a photo by Tim Matheson).  Visiting her uncle from Toronto, Rachel questions her uncle’s motives and while not dissuading him from his task, ultimately gets him to realize that perhaps his mission may not be as honorable as he once believed.  The interactions between Mahoney and Siegel  were particularly genuine and I found myself wishing that the playwright had spent more time here.

Playwright Reed, who also directs, elicits some fine performances from his actors.  Kelly’s portrayal of Rudi’s emotional and mental spiral as his life crumbles before him is particularly powerful.  Equally as potent is Siegel’s Katzman who, even though provided with some of the evening’s most preachy dialogue, delivers them with such an understated passion that he comes across as genuine.

Scenographic Designer Lauchlin Johnston’s set works well within the tiny confines of the Pacific Theatre providing the director and actors with a number of levels to work with.  The tiled floor and walls with photographs of Dutch Jews killed by the Nazis is truly inspired and used to great effect during Katzman’s monologue early in the show.  The use of the bathtub, complete with running water, brought a cohesiveness to a number of story elements and even had me thinking of more recent war atrocities.  Johnston’s lighting design was well executed and even managed to show off some of Pacific Theatre’s newest lighting acquisitions, including Katzman’s monologue with various photo tiles highlighted with exacting precision.  And while I did appreciate the various lighting fixtures that helped delineate scenes they did not get used to their fullest potential.  My biggest complaint here though was with scene changes where, in an effort to keep a good pace, the actors often moved set pieces to the point of distraction.

There is no question that playwright Reed makes his audience work, providing us with little in the way of answers to some pretty heady questions about good and evil, forgiveness and justice versus revenge.  And it is in forcing us to find the answers for ourselves that ultimately makes Refuge of Lies so successful.

4 out of 5 starsRefuge of Lies

Continues at the Pacific Theatre through May 1st (Wednesday to Saturday @ 8pm; Saturday matinee @ 2pm).  Tickets are $17-$34 available online or by calling 604.731.5518.

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