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BWW Reviews: SWITZERLAND Moves Chillingly to the Geffen


Switzerland/written by Joanna Murray-Smith/directed by Mark Brokaw/Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, Geffen Playhouse/co-world premiere with the Sydney Theatre Company/through April 19

Taking an meticulous look at what makes authoress Patricia Highsmith (Laura Linney) tick, and placing her in a torturous thriller with unexpected twists and turns, similar to the ones she herself is famous for, constitute the pertinent elements of Joanna Murray-Smith's world premiere play Switzerland, currently on the Audrey Skirball Kenis stage of the Geffen Playhouse through April 19.

Linney as Highsmith is pure gold. Beautiful and lovely of spirit are not easily transformed into ugly, vicious, and foul-mouthed, but somehow Linney manages, without makeup and with a little grey mixed into her pulled-back mousy-brown hair, to become the abrasive and trollish lesbian Highsmith. From the moment the light hits her sitting at the typewriter, she is every inch this bold, crude woman who lived to play cruel mind games with anyone who happened to cross her path. When Highsmith walks, her posture and gait have an unmistakable masculine flair and every syllable she utters is calculated and controlled, all of which Linney carries off in a miraculous performance that blooms from within and consistently keeps us riveted.

Murray-Smith as playwright is not without her deceptive devices, pulling us in and grabbing hold as did Highsmith in Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. She takes us for a ride which is full of beguilingly manipulative tricks. Daylight in the alps at 8: 30 am soon turns to darkness...which seems to linger right through breakfast and beyond in the scenes that follow. Plunged into darkness - is it day or night? - we also become confused about the nature of Edward Ridgeway (Seth Numrich). Is he really trying to get Highsmith to sign a contract for a posh literary agency in New York or is he after something else? The tables do turn, but it would be unfair to tell you how. You must see the play for yourselves and breathe in all the fun and excitement. Suffice to say that actingwise, Numrich is Linney's equal, playing the cat and mouse game with intelligence, wit and panache, under Mark Brokaw's smooth directorial hand.

Highsmith was known as a loner, an outsider whose childhood was nothing short of wicked - abuse by her mother as well as from an evil stepfather, and all of that unhappiness led her into a world of crime where her most fascinating character was serial killer Tom Ripley. She was a racist, hated and mistrusted blacks and Jews among others, and sought escape from the cruelties of the outside world by living vicariously through her creations. She claims to have wanted love, but curiously enough found it only within the wildest stretches of her imagination. Amidst the bizarre fantasies there are a few humorous and more normal idiosyncracies noted by Murray-Smith such as Highsmith's attraction to showtunes; Linney has a field day with "Happy Talk" and Bloody Mary from South Pacific. Watch for it!

Numrich and Linney do duel deliciously throughout making what appears to be a real concerted effort in co-envisioning a new Ripley novel... quite possibly a mere fabrication of a deceased mind. Their seasoned skill and versatility as well as Murray-Smith's devilishly good script keep us glued for an all too short 95 minutes. Anthony T. Fanning's mesmerizing set design with the alps surrounding and the long spiral staircase that seems to lead nowhere stage right, Ellen McCartney's bright costumes, especially the mannish shirts and jeans for Linney, and Lap Chi Chu's expert lighting all contribute much to the thrill of the evening. If you thought Switzerland spelled neutrality, think again!

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