Photograph: Courtesy Rana Faure
  • Theater, Drama



Time Out says

Theater review by Helen Shaw 

Joanna Murray-Smith’s Switzerland is part of a long tradition of writers writing about writers, and with few exceptions, such as the best bits of Shakespeare in Love, it’s not a good idea. The subject’s actual work almost always puts the ersatz stuff in the shade, and trying to insert a play between a writer and her creation—here’s what she was really thinking—tends to be an exercise in overreach.

Edward (Daniel Petzold) is a young editor’s assistant, both ingratiating and a bit of a bully, who has come to Switzerland in the 1990s to coax Patricia Highsmith (Peggy J. Scott) into writing another novel about the serially murderous Tom Ripley. Edward annoys Highsmith from the moment he walks into her house, but she lets him stay for reasons that slip around in the playwright’s hands. Edward clearly wants her to sign a contract, but Murray-Smith can’t seem to decide what Highsmith wants. Is it attention? Inspiration? Solitude? A victim? Since that’s undetermined, every exchange must be constantly redirected before Murray-Smith commits the author to something. “Get out!” Highsmith commands, only to get distracted each time before Edward actually leaves. Eventually, the legendary novelist tries to get the boy to brainstorm a plot for Ripley (whose weapon of choice has moved from oars to poison), which is really not a thing writers do to editorial assistants. This fundamental slackness around both reality and motivation is why the play, designed as a clash of wills, feels like a fight with pool noodles.

The limpness extends throughout. Scott, palpably civil, is too clearly pretending at being nasty; when the bigoted Highsmith talks about hating Jewish people, Scott’s entire body shrinks in apology. Petzold also lacks definition, and when his character takes a long-telegraphed metaphysical turn, he can’t summon up the needed menace. Hudson Stage Company, under director Dan Foster, successfully fields a handsome production, with James J. Fenton’s luxe living room set glowing lusciously under the Alps out the window. The set, at least, captures the imagination. I’m not saying I’d kill for a view like that, but I’d think about bopping someone lightly with an oar.

59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). By Joanna Murray-Smith. Directed by Dan Foster. With Peggy J. Scott, Daniel Petzold. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

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