×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

L.A. Theater Review: Laura Linney Plays Patricia Highsmith in ‘Switzerland’

With:
Laura Linney, Seth Numrich.

Writers of crime fiction are rarely as brutal or twisted as the characters they create. But meet Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), by general agreement a foul-mouthed misanthrope who spent decades detailing the psychotic narcissism lurking in humanity’s dark heart. The Geffen Playhouse sketch of her, portrayed by Laura Linney in “Switzerland,” will likely send spectators giddily speeding back to such novels as “Strangers on a Train” and Anthony Minghella’s movie adaptation of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But playwright Joanna Murray-Smith hasn’t wrapped Highsmith in a gripping dramatic situation, so “Switzerland” stays stubbornly stuck in neutral.

Anthony T. Fanning’s set is certainly appropriate to embittered self-exile, a heavy-walled bunker decorated with antique weaponry which could, in a pinch, be used to repel invaders. A 140-degree mural of the Swiss Alps curves around the back wall as a reminder of the natural lush life on which Highsmith (Linney) has turned her back in her latter days.

Chain-smoking and growling, she’s attempting to work her way out of writer’s block when affable schmo Edward Ridgeway (Seth Numrich, the original star of Broadway’s “War Horse”) golly-gees his way into the inner sanctum. He’s been sent by her U.S. publisher to obtain a contract for one more Ripley yarn, continuing the adventures of the charming, chameleon-like expatriate with expensive tastes and a talent for murder to satisfy them. (The previous emissary got scared off when he awoke to find his hostess holding a knife to his neck.)

Popular on Variety

More’s going on than meets the eye, especially as Edward starts sprucing up, his execrable French becoming parfait and his true Ripleyesque mission revealed. (The talented Mr. Numrich is almost too perfectly cast here, his skills effortlessly encompassing both stumblebum and trickster.) Lap Chi Chu’s expressionistic lighting flashes and John Ballinger’s exquisite, Bernard Herrmann-tinged underscoring keep promising a rabbit hole of perverse motivations and chills.

Which never arrives. Murray-Smith’s confrontations decline into a dispiriting set of musings on the art of writing and the deficiencies of the American character, leavened here and there by a quirky biographical detail (the writer’s “mental torturer” of a mother) intended as explanatory telegraphy. Pat and Ed start “collaborating” on a juicy murder for the next book, but there’s never much at stake in their duel, no urgency and no real threat.

It’s also unequally matched. Linney’s Southie Lady Macbeth in “Mystic River” notwithstanding, she is not to the loathsome manner born, and her efforts here to embody a elderly, bigoted hag are marked with strain and diminishing returns.

Her Highsmith’s misanthropy is all surface, never seeming the product of a tumultous, ruthless twentieth century inspiring some of modern literature’s most acrid output. Even terminal illness doesn’t shake Linney to the core. She’s on the outside, looking in.

The delivery also seems off. One shouldn’t have to work hard to castigate “pansy publishers in Jew-town,” or deem young people “deluded, silly little fuckers”; surely such venom will deliver itself. Where Highsmith would wield a stiletto, helmer Mark Brokaw has Linney spitting out barbs with an energy smacking of desperation, way out of proportion to the threat nebbishy Edward initially poses. The overkill and lack of variety become tiring to witness.

L.A. Theater Review: Laura Linney Plays Patricia Highsmith in 'Switzerland'

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 120 seats; $119 top. Opened, reviewed March 13, 2015; runs through Apr. 19. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Production: A Geffen Playhouse production of a play in one act by Joanna Murray-Smith.

Creative: Directed by Mark Brokaw. Sets, Anthony T. Fanning; costumes, Ellen McCartney; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; composer and sound, John Ballinger; fight choreography, J. David Brimmer; production stage manager, Cate Cundiff.

Cast: Laura Linney, Seth Numrich.

More Legit

  • Mrs. Doubtfire BroadwayCon panel

    Listen: 'Mrs. Doubtfire' the Musical, Live From BroadwayCon

    In the Broadway-bound musical version of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” actor Rob McClure has the unenviable job of following in the footsteps of comedy great Robin Williams, who memorably played the title role in the 1993 film on which the stage show is based. Listen to this week’s podcast below: How does McClure hope to fill those [...]

  • Grand Horizons review

    'Grand Horizons': Theater Review

    Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one, as you surely must have: A nice, all-American family is in the process of breaking up and trying to make this sad state of affairs seem funny in Bess Wohl’s Broadway outing “Grand Horizons.” After 50 years of marriage, Nancy (the ever-elegant Jane Alexander) and Bill (the [...]

  • Uncle Vanya review

    'Uncle Vanya': Theater Review

    Director Ian Rickson has had success with Chekhov in the past. His exquisitely balanced, tragicomic production of “The Seagull” (2007 in London, 2008 on Broadway) was well-nigh flawless with, among others, Kristin Scott Thomas as painfully vulnerable as she was startlingly funny. Sadly, with his production of “Uncle Vanya,” despite felicities in the casting, lightning [...]

  • The Welkin review

    'The Welkin': Theater Review

    A life hanging perilously in the balance of charged-up, polarized opinions: This courtroom drama could easily have been titled “Twelve Angry Women.” But playwright Lucy Kirkwood (“Chimerica,” “The Children”) is far too strong and imaginative a writer for so hand-me-down a cliché. Instead she opts for “The Welkin,” an old English term for the vault [...]

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content