Review

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball

By - Apr 17th, 2010 11:38 pm
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It’s the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre‘s last home stand of the season. Producing artistic director C. Michael Wright swings and get up, get up get outta here, GONE, with Rebecca Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.

All right, enough with the sports metaphors. But the play is about baseball, after all…or art… or the convergence of the two. It’s about the struggle to master life or fall victim to its predators. It’s about celebrity, the sundry machinations of our professional institutions and the ability to play the game.

The play opens in a fashionable urban gallery. Artist Dana Fielding secludes herself, belting down glasses of wine to deal with the rejection by the art critics and her boyfriend. It’s all too much. Her attempted suicide lands her in a mental institution. There, she finds safety amid an unlikely coterie: a psychopath, a gay guy, two sympathetic therapists. About to be booted back into the real world because her insurance won’t pay for her care, she devises a ploy to stay put – she becomes talented, troubled Daryl Strawberry, the bad boy of baseball from 1983 to 1999. Buttressed by her new-found teammates, Dana rediscovers her identity and eventually rises above the fray.

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball is clever, comic and witty.  It covers lots of bases (sorry), from seedy sides of sports, health care and the business of art to the exploration of human nature from megalomania to that simple need to be oneself.  Wisdom rises from a psychopath’s candor. Inevitably, kindness comes from a stranger.

The play takes the artist Dana through her phases. Manipulative, self-serving friends reinforce her self-doubt and inadvertently confess their motives. Her artistic impasse and retreat give way to “getting pragmatic” and learning to enjoy success. In that moment, Dana discovers her personal “negative space” – that area around a painting’s subject that gives it identity. She finds her way through an unconventional mechanism, a feigned alter ego that may not be feigned at all.

The cast of four portrays nine characters (a complete baseball team, probably not by coincidence). Mary MacDonald Kerr, as the troubled artist, really never leaves the stage.  She progresses through her trials, tribulations, the charade of impersonating, without the slightest knowledge of the game, a baseball player. In the end, she truly transforms herself.

Laura Gary plays the “gallerist,” Rhonda, and therapist Dr. Gilbert. As Rhonda, Gary is precise: acutely superficial and annoyingly effete in her dizzyingly high, rhinestone-studded heels. Dr. Gilbert’s skepticism gives way to a sincere desire to heal. Nicholas Harazin plays both the artist’s friend, Brian, and Michael, the gay guy. The two characters give him little to work with, but Harazin manages endow both supporting characters with a degree of personality.

Peter Reeves, as boyfriend Roy and psychopath Gary, gets to show off. These peripheral roles move things along but aren’t especially complex. Gary has a lot of good lines. He’s slightly scary but ultimately harmless, even affable. Reeves makes both characters believable.

Linda Stevens, as Erica, the artist’s friend and owner of a competing gallery, is less convincing. She also plays Dr. Stanton, one of the therapists, with conviction and vigor.

Nathan Stuber’s set design emphasized the institutional aspect of the play’s setting. Its cold expanse of sectioned white walls doubles as the chic up-market gallery and the sterile psychiatric hospital. That white is also the allusion to the play’s theme of “negative space.”  Holly Blomquist’s lighting provides dramatic mood and nuance.

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball is an enjoyable evening at the theater. You say that after a couple of foul balls, it’s a hit.

Sweetest Swing runs through May 2 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, in the Third Ward. Tickets are $10-$38 at the BTC box office, 414-291-7800, and at the MCT website.

Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

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