Husband Jimmy spends the bulk of his redundancy lionizing the tennis star Roger Federer, to the point of rooting for him against a Scottish opponent, Andy Murray, at Wimbledon. (Hence the play’s metaphoric title.) Federer is exactly the same age as the couple’s late son would have been. Jimmy also admires the athlete’s calm, gentlemanly demeanor and the neutrality of his home country, Switzerland, which never goes to war. Though Jimmy can afford neither, he orders up an official Roger Federer cardigan and plans a trip to the Swiss Alps to pay homage to his hero. He also paints his face red and white, the colors of the Swiss flag, to watch the Federer-Murray finals match on TV.
Jimmy’s wife, Flo, who paints her face true blue and white for Scotland to take in the championship contest, displays her depression in more-familiar ways. Slogging through lobster shifts as an on-call nurse’s aide at a local hospital, she pays grudgingly dutiful attention to her grown daughter and her ailing mother and flirts with the idea of an extramarital affair with a former patient. She won’t touch or be touched by Jimmy and loudly derides his obsession with Roger and his other, even messier, fixation with clipping and saving newspaper articles about the Afghanistan war. The couple’s George-and-Martha railing against one another (yes, Albee’s influence is felt) in their dingy living room makes up most of the action.
Author Stevenson also directs and plays Flo. Such a hat trick usually fails, lacking an outside eye, but here it results in an uncommon unity of vision and a completely realized production. Arriving in New York via Glasgow and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, “Federer Versus Murray” feels like a full theatrical experience despite its modest length and residence on a very small stage. Dave Anderson is Stevenson’s towering equal in the role of Jimmy, and both come across as real people who will linger in memory for a long time.
Designer Jessica Brettle has contributed a remarkably compact set that effectively transforms itself into the alps by means of a large bed sheet, and Simon Wilkinson’s lighting offers appropriate mood swings. A third character appears onstage at times: a young nonspeaking saxophone player (Ben Bryden) in a Glengarry hat. He surely represents the dead son and possibly the father’s lost youth (Jimmy’s an amateur saxophonist). Bryden’s renditions of traditional Scottish airs, on the dirge end of the spectrum, enhance and help extend the reach of the play’s deceptively simple setup.
Presented by Communicado Productions as part of Scotland Week at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC. April 10–22. Tue.–Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 and 7:30p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.