Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Also see Richard's review of What the Night Is For
Once again, Rebecca Gilman shows her customary intelligence in both subject matter and dialogue. The playwright is excellent at writing a natural point-making conversation between characters over dramatic tension. All of this makes for a very interesting two hour, two-act evening with a great cast under the helm of Amy Glazer.
Sweetest Thing follows Dana Fielding (Barbara Pitts), a contemporary New York artist who has been successful until her new exhibition falls flat on its face. To make matters worse, her personal life takes a nose dive. Dana believes she has hit bottom and she attempts suicide. She finds herself in a mental institution with a strange couple: a sinister stalker, now under a peaceful drug (Michael Ray Wisely), who has attempted to kill a conservative talk host; and a gay drunk (Joseph Parks) who happens to like baseball. The stalker tells the drunk he didn't know gay people liked baseball. From there on, you know you are going to get some sparkling dialogue from Ms. Gilman.
Dana does not get the best shrink (Velina Brown), which makes her unhappy, and she finds out that her insurance allows only ten days of residency before she becomes a victim of a second-rate outpatient hospital. Her other course is to take mind-altering drugs which will effect her painting.
Dana, with the help of the stalker and the alcoholic, comes up with a plan to fool the authorities into letting her stay for a longer period of time. If she becomes a delusional person, she can stay. They devise a plan that she thinks she is Darryl Strawberry, the famous baseball player known for "the sweetest swing in the game" and for his own drug problems. The chief doctor (Anne Darragh) believes the roust, so she is treated as Darryl. The most comic part is that Dana does not know one thing about Strawberry or even baseball. One cannot really take this serious, but the play becomes an examination of ethical and philosophical issues. It addresses the mental health problem here in this country.
Barbara Pitts (Drifting Elegant at the Magic, original cast/writer for The Laramie Project) gives an astonishing performance as Dana. She starts out looking overwrought and slowly transforms herself into a vibrant personality. Joseph Parks (Wintertime at San Jose Rep, Mysterious Skin at NCTC) as the gay drunk gives a winning performance. Michael Ray Wisely as the stalker under a calm drug gives a droll performance. Anne Darragh and Velina Brown both give polished performances.
Amy Glazer's direction is particularly chic and tight while J. B. Wilson's minimal set design for the three-sided stage, with a large white canvas with slight lines and blocks, is excellent. Lighting by Kurt Landiman is top grade, especially in the institute settings.
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball runs through February 20th at the Northside Theatre at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Building D, Laguna and Marina Blvd, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or online at www.magictheatre.org.
Photo: Bill Faulkner