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Theater review by Juan Michael Porter II
A luxury hotel in Switzerland plays host to overlapping psychodramas in Amelia Roper’s revealing Zürich. Set in adjacent and nearly identical rooms, each of the play’s five scenes—which we soon realize take place simultaneously—ends in darkness and the ominous sound of an explosion; as the play reveals what is happening in the adjoining rooms, we piece together the sequence of events that brings us to those blackouts.
The audience watches through panes of glass, as though spying through the characters’ 14th-floor windows. In the first scene, a self-involved young banker bro (Paul Wesley) refuses to leave the room of the woman (Juliana Canfield) with whom he had a drunken one-night stand the night before. (He insists the room is his.) In the next, a handsome African-American man (Austin Smith), recently promoted by his ethically dubious employers, takes out his ambivalence on the miserable but eager-to-please maid (Carolyn Holding) he has summoned to clean his bathroom.
Meanwhile, a 13-year-old girl (Samantha Cutler) and her 11-year-old brother (Gregory Diaz IV) annoy each other with gross-out antics, then suspend hostilities when they discover something shocking in their parents’ luggage. In a series of frustrating phone calls, a German-Jewish woman (Renata Friedman) tries to extract information from a shady Swiss bank about a lost account belonging to her grandmother, who was murdered by the Nazis, while her adorable young daughter (Sami Molly Bray) plays innocently nearby. And just down the hall, a retirement-home escapee (Lynne Lipton) and her guileless orderly (Matthew Stadelmann), bitter at their economic circumstances, plot a radical protest against the moneyed class.
Working with a superb multigenerational cast, Colt Coeur artistic director Adrienne Campbell-Holt fleshes out every uncomfortable nuance in Roper's collection of mostly two-person conversations. Placid as some of the interactions may appear from our voyeuristic vantage point, they are tense with potential violence; corruption, betrayal and resentment are never very far from the surface. The Swiss values of neutrality and prosperity, Zürich implies, do not guarantee a lasting peace. As people work through their personal dramas, big and small, they never know when the boom might come.
4th Street Theatre (Off Broadway). By Amelia Roper. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.