The title of the new show at 59E59 Theaters, Federer Versus Murray, isn’t truly indicative of the content. True, you will see a match of wills - complete with volleys, pot shots and the occasional smash, but this is an emotional match between Jimmy and Flo, a long married Scottish couple.
Dave Anderson plays Jimmy and Gerda Stevenson plays Flo, and both actors have a real feel for these middle aged characters. The play opens with Jimmy having recently been laid off, and deciding to watch Wimbledon before looking for a new job. Jimmy’s decision upsets the marital dynamic, which has been carefully developed after the loss of their son in the Afghanistan war. Since their loss, and possibly before that, Jimmy and Flo have lived a quiet life. They have studiously avoided certain topics that would cause conflict, but now Jimmy’s constant presence at home forces some uncomfortable conversations.
Ms. Stevenson, as Flo, manages to organically convey exasperation, annoyance, longing and love towards her husband – common in marriage. But she finds that the reality of Jimmy wears on her patience. She has settled into a household rhythm and Jimmy has upset it. Even more frustrating, her husband now wants to discuss the loss of their son.
Federer Versus Murray is a quick show, about an hour long, but packs quite an emotional punch into that time. There is a fair amount of biting wit - a sign of affection in Scotland, but sometimes harsh to American sensibilities. In other moments, quiet things, like the emotion Roger Federer brings out in Jimmy, are quite moving.
The Scottish brogue here is quite dense and sometimes difficult to understand. It is a choice of the playwright (Ms. Stevenson), as it is the language of the working class in Scotland. Jimmy and Flo are definitely working class, struggling to make ends meet. This adds a layer of complexity to the characters, but it is a tough choice for American ears.