Gerda Stevenson, playwright, director, actor (as Flo) and-Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray Versus Federer.” Photo courtesy Communicado Theatre Company
Who doesn’t like a festival? Embedded int he word is the possibilty of a happy– okay, festive– occasion. Everybody enjoys a celebration. What we are celebrating at 59E59 Theaters’ “Scotland Week” are a couple of Scotland’s fine playwrights and their supporting casts. The plays, “A Slow Air” by David Harrower, running through April 29th, and Gerda Stevenson’s “Murray Versus Federer,” on stage through April 22nd, are serious, even grim affairs. The latter about a couple, grieving over the loss of a son in war, and at war with each other. The former about a pair of siblings that have been estranged for the past fourteen years.
That is not to say that there is not plenty to celebrate here.
While “Murray Versus Federer” is written in short-hand, like the radio plays Stevenson scripts for the BBC, it is an intelligent and moving tale. It needs more time to pursue its subject in depth and allow its characters their full development, but what it gives us is subtle and well-written.
Gerda Stevenson, (as Flo) and Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray vs Federer.” Photo © Jessica Brettle.
Grief is personal even when it’s shared. In “Murray Versus Federer,” Flo (Gerda Stevenson, also the writer and director), and Jimmy (Dave Anderson) are rent asunder in their bereavement. Their differences in temperament are underscored by their loss. Resentments lead them to blame each other.
“Well, tell me this, Mr. Expert,” Flo says, “how come you kept yer mooth shut when Joe joined up? How come ye didnae dae yer schoolboy homework then, eh?” Jimmy explodes back at her “I’ll no keep ma mooth shut just to keep a phoney fuckin peace in this hoose, a phoney fuckin peace that’s packed wi lies. My son died fur lies, lies!” In “Murray Versus Federer,” Flo and Jimmy share the stage with the memory of Joe, a Saxophonist (Ben Bryden), who alternately plays sad, soulful and jazzy tunes between the five short scenes.
“Murray Versus Federer,” despite its brevity and because of the excellent acting, is affecting and intimate. The set by Jessica Brettle turns the small space into an elaborate living room with the catty-corner walls providing both background and a scrim behind which the Saxophonist is introduced.
Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray vs Federer.” Photo © Jessica Brettle.
In “A Slow Air,” the siblings long estrangement is temperamental as much as circumstantial. Athol (Lewis Howden)is a steady hard-working bloke whose built a business in construction and lives in the suburbs. His sister, Morna (Susan Vidler) is a free-spirited and rebellious single mother who cleans rich folks’ houses. Like the dimly lit stage it occupies, “A Slow Air” fails to illuminate any of the many themes on which it touches.
Susan Vidler as Morna and Lewis Howden as Athol, across a divide created by Jessica Brettle’s set design in “A Slow Air,” written and directed by David Harrower. Photo © John Johston.
“A Slow Air” is structured as a double monologue. On the darkened stage (lighting by Dave Shea), in “A Slow Air” Jessica Brettle has designed a simple set on a roughly tiled floor that divides the two monologists. There is a high window on the back wall, and two wooden armchairs to which Athol and Morna withdraw like boxers into their corners.
For more information about the nearly month-long Scotland Week at 59E59 Theaters, please visit their website at www.59E59.org.