By Patrick Christiano
April 11, 2012 59 East 59 Theaters continues their Scotland week celebration with the US premiere of Federer Versus Murray by Gerda Stevenson, a drama produced by the Glasgow-based Communicado Theatre Company, which opened last night. The playwright directs and stars as the wife Flo opposite Dave Anderson as Jimmy in the three character drama that focuses on a married couple mourning the death of their son in the Afghanistan War.
We follow Flo and Jimmy’s painful journey to coming to acceptance. The different paths they take in the mourning process becomes the basis for the story’s conflict. The drama tracks the couple from their claustrophobic flat in Scotland to the Swiss Alps against the backdrop of the classic 2009 Federer Versus Murray Wimbledon match that pits the Swiss master opposite Scotland’s golden boy. The device allows Flo and Jimmy to play out their final clash in facial war paint , but the themes are loss, denial, blame and escape.
Jimmy idolizes Roger Federer, who is the same age their late son would have been, and roots for the Swiss star. The unemployed husband sits at home watching the tennis match and even paints his face red and white like the Swiss flag in homage to his hero, who he admires for his calm demeanor. In retaliation Flo, who works shifts as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital, paints her face blue and white for Scotland. She won’t allow any physical contact between her and Jimmy and she taunts him with the treat of an extramarital affair with a former patient.
Most of the action is played out in the couple’s modest living room and feels very George and Martha. The playwright certainly owes a debt to Edward Albee and his influence is clearly present in the evening. However, events leading up to the final fade out feel overly dramatic rather than lived in a way that accumulates with emotional intensity. The story unfolds in just under an hour as a series of domestic battles filled with beautifully written speeches, but there is no inner life. The technically outstanding actors seem to be playing the problem instead of the inner turmoil, which is the cause of the explosive outbursts. As a result there is little room for real characters to emerge in the story about a middle-aged couple struggling with the death of their child.
When writers direct their own work the clarity of vision is often on the words presenting a difficult challenge to bring the material to life. But when playwrights, write, act, and direct a unique set of circumstances exists that only the extraordinarily gifted can pull off without the aid of an outside eye. In her very interesting production, unfortunately Gerda Stevenson does not succeed in giving us the dichotomy needed to bringing the evening the evening to searing life.
The performance schedule at 59E59 Theaters between Park and Madison Avenues is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8:30 pm; Saturday at 2:30 pm & 8:30 pm; Sunday at 3:30 pm & 7:30 pm. To purchase tickets call 212-279-4200 or go to ww.59e59.org
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