Cycling Past the Matterhorn

  • Date:
    September 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: Deborah Grimberg
    Directed by: Eleanor Holdridge
    Cast: Shirley Knight (Esther), Brenda Wehle (Anita), Nina Jacques (Joanne), Carrie Preston (Amy), Ben Fox (Doug).
    Synopsis: Amy is a young sidewalk psychic (with mediocre abilities) who earns her modest living forecasting the troubled lives of the British public. Amy�s eccentric mother, Esther, has recently been left by her husband and has just discovered she is slowly going blind. Amy, fearing being stuck as Esther�s caretaker, considers marrying her American boyfriend to escape the predicament while Esther decides to forge ahead with her life ('If Stevie Wonder can do it than so can I!'), and joins a cycling excursion in Switzerland to see the mountains while she still can.

    Polly Wittenberg's Review.

    Must be something in the water. In the last week, I�ve seen two plays by female British playwrights about the difficulties that newly adult daughters have in breaking away from Mum when Mum has serious difficulties. In Laura Wade�s Colder Than Here, Mum was dying. Here, in Deborah Grimberg�s Cycling Past the Matterhorn, Mum is going blind. Of the two plays, this one certainly has more life to it�both literally and figuratively.

    Young blonde Amy (Carrie Preston) is an aspiring psychic with her own London stall and an upwardly mobile American boyfriend named Doug (Ben Fox). Mum Esther (Shirley Knight) and Aunt Anita (Brenda Wehle) have thoroughly working class tastes. They drink tea, knit, compare notes on favored fish and chips shops and agree that Amy should move home to help her divorced Mum, which Amy is reluctant to do. But Esther has various habits unlikely to bring Amy running back to the fold, for example, making snippy comments about Amy�s clothes. When Esther suggests that suicide might be on her mind, Amy remains apparently indifferent. Even when Esther threatens to go it alone because �if Stevie Wonder can do it, so can I,� Amy plans to go off to America with Doug.

    At some point, Esther acquires a bicycle, gets relatively trim at a gym with an attractive trainer and sets out to find herself through a once-before-I-go bike trip in the Alps. While there, she discovers how narrow her life has become. Through other means (and after a family tragedy which is presented as merely another plot twist), Amy too has an epiphany about her life. Mum and daughter come together. Fade to black.

    With a story as unoriginal and unsurprising as this, there�s got to be something else to bring you to the theater. Cycling Past the Matterhorn has several such attractions. First, there�s Playwright Grimberg�s clever intercutting between simultaneously played scenes which has the talented Ms.�Preston talking to different characters about different things in different places at the same time. Then there�s the warm presence of Ms. Knight, here playing a sympathetic character. I have become too used to seeing her as some sort of freaky harridan on �Law & Order�. And then there�s the sprightly direction of Eleanor Holdridge on a set by the unforgettably named Beowulf Boritt.

    Not the worst way to spend a couple of hours.

    Polly Wittenberg


    What the critics had to say.....

    CHARLES ISHERWOOD of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Most disappointing plays disappoint benignly. They just lie there, failing to entertain us. 'Cycling Past the Matterhorn' is more actively annoying.�
    JACQUES LE SOURD of the Journal News says "Some of the twists and capricious turns of the plot are way too sudden, and we just don't buy them. But they certainly keep the play fresh and unexpected. It helps that the production, with an economically elegant set by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by Kiki Smith, is superb."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    Journal News