Murray-Smith, Joanna 1964-
MURRAY-SMITH, Joanna 1964-
Born April 17, 1964, in Mornington, Australia; daughter of Stephen (an editor) and Nita Murray-Smith; married Raymond Gill, 1992; children: one son. Education: University of Melbourne, B.A. (with honors), 1986.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia.
Playwright and librettist.
Braille Book of the Year, Vision Australia Library Award; Victorian Premier's Literary Award for drama, 1996, for Honour.
Truce, Penguin Books Australia (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1994.
This Is Joseph Speaking, Reed Books, 1994.
Love Child (radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation, 1994.
The Anchor (radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation, 1996.
Wings (radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation, 1998.
Judgement Rock, Penguin Books Australia (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2002.
(Librettist) Love in the Age of Therapy (opera), music by Paul Grabowski, produced by OzOpera, 2002.
Also author of television plays, including Cassidy, 1989; Mimi Goes to the Analyst, 1992; Greed, 1993; and Flame, 1995. Contributor to newspapers and journals, including Age, Australian, and Sunday Age.
Atlanta (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1990), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1990.
Love Child (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1993), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1993.
Flame (produced in Sydney, Australia, 1994), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1994.
Honour (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1995, produced on Broadway, 1998), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1995.
Redemption (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1997), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1997.
Nightfall (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1999), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1999.
Bombshells (two-act), produced in Melbourne, Australia, 2002, produced in London, 2004.
One of Australia's most prominent young playwrights, Joanna Murray-Smith is particularly well known for the plays she has produced for Melbourne's Playbox Theatre Center, especially Honour. In addition, she has written the novel Judgement Rock, set in the unspoiled Bass Strait islands that Murray-Smith and her family often visited during her childhood. She has also tried her hand at opera, providing the libretto for Paul Grabowski's Love in the Age of Therapy.
Murray-Smith's first play, Atlanta, is centered on a tight-knit group of upwardly mobile young people coping with the sudden death of Atlanta, the leading light of their clique. Ridge's Lovers, by contrast, is a lightweight comedy that climaxes with the dilettante Ridge's various lovers coming together and essentially driving him from his own play. While neither play met much critical success, Murray-Smith fared better with Redemption, the story of a woman named Edie and her brother-in-law Sam, who spar at the funeral of Edie's husband, Jacob, a noted cellist. The play was praised for its dialogue and clever use of a musical themes-and-variations structure. Love Child fared even better, winning praise for the depth of its characterization, particularly of Billie, a young girl who was given up for adoption. When she shows up at the home of Anna, a busy professional, the implication is that Anna is her birth mother, but as the play unfolds, this assumption comes into question; its intriguing mystery made the play a favorite throughout Australia. Bombshells, a series of "deftly written" monologues, in the words of Guardian contributor Lyn Gardner, provides an overview of the life of a modern woman as teenager, eager bride-to-be, exhausted mother, and finally lonely widow.
Murray-Smith is best known for Honour, the story of a dissolving marriage told from four distinctive perspectives. When an ambitious young journalist named Claudia enters the world of a married couple—Gus, a pompous middle-aged pundit, and Honor, who gave up a career in poetry after the birth of her daughter, Sophie—the results are devastating, and eventually Gus ends his thirty-two-year marriage to run off with Claudia. Not all the critics were entirely pleased. New Republic contributor Robert Brustein wrote, "As an evening in the theater, Honour is not exactly a calamity. It is written with some wit and sophistication, being essentially a sex comedy with a moral theme. But this very mixture of genres sinks the play." For New Leader reviewer Stefan Kanfer, "The problem is that we have been here before, in scores of television dramas and feature films." Others were more impressed. "I recognize flaws … which some people will undoubtedly find more bothersome than I did. But for me the evening's rewards, in terms of some richly realized performances, a brisk pace, and insightful lines, outweighed the shortcomings," concluded Chip Deffaa in Back Stage. And Guardian contributor Michael Billington commended "Murray-Smith's devastating alertness to the intricate politics of marital crackup, in which memory is the key weapon."
While she has used music in a number of her plays, Love in the Age of Therapy was Murray-Smith's first attempt at a full libretto. This time she expands her scope to tell the story of three different couples: two are middle-aged, and the third comprises Rebecca, daughter and goddaughter of the two older couples, and her "Angry Young Man," Rory. Naturally, there are emotional tensions beneath the seeming placidity of these middle-class lives, and eventually the couples all realign as each member seeks his or her true soul mate. Meanjin critic John Rickard found it a bit archaic, asking, "in spite of its modern gloss, is there not something just a little old-fashioned to this entertainment? Are we really living in the 'age of therapy'? Without any disrespect to Freud, this hardly seems the most apposite description of the Australia of 2003." Variety's Michaela Boland, in contrast, described it as "a mad, sung play and as such, it works well."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage, May 8, 1998, Horwitz Simi, "Joanna Murray-Smith Probes 'Honour' in Marriage," p. 13; May 8, 1998, Chip Defaa, review of Honour, p. 40.
Daily Variety, March 6, 2003, Matt Wolf, review of Honour, p. 9.
Guardian, February 28, 2003, Michael Billington, review of Honour, p. 24; August 11, 2004, Lyn Gardner, review of Bombshells, p. 22.
Meanjin, June, 2003, John Rickard, "Writing Opera in Australia," p. 67.
New Leader, May 4, 1998, Stefan Kanfer, review of Honour, p. 9.
New Republic, March 25, 1998, Robert Brustein, review of Honour, p. 27.
New York Times, July 1, 2001, Alan Klein, review of Nightfall, section WC, p. 14.
Variety, April 27, 1998, Charles Isherwood, review of Honour, p. 66; January 21, 2002, Michaela Boland, review of Bombshells, p. 44; February 10, 2003, Boland, review of Love in the Age of Therapy, p. 45.
National Archives of Australia Web site, http://www.naa.gov.au/exhibitions/ (September 29, 2004), Joanna Murray-Smith, "On Lighthouses and Writing."
National Theatre of England Web site,http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ (September 29, 2004), Nicola Barringer, interview with Murray-Smith.*