Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball
Happilyno, actually ecstaticallyI get to see a play that has a fun and witty script, which is actually up to the talents of our local playmakers. Rebecca Gilman's comedy The Sweetest Swing in Baseball doesn't have a perfect script, but it is perfectly entertaining in this For Giving/Red Thread Santa Fe production, and well worth my strong recommendation that you see it. The material is seriouseven deadly serious in one spotbut is presented in a way that quickly won over this particular reviewer and his wife (a hard sell); and I predict it will, during its three-weekend run, red rover/red rover send the rest of its audiences right over. (I'm trying very hard to avoid any baseball metaphors in this review, so you'll have to indulge my sometimes awkward substitutions.)
Artist Dana Fielding is a pretty messed-up lady, whose fear of failure after, ironically, a period of actual artistic failure, sends her to the razor blades and winds her up in a mental hospital. But this isn't just any old mental hospital. She actually likes it there, becomes good friends with a sweet and good-hearted alcoholic, and becomes tolerably friendly with a heavily medicated attempted murderer who has it in for Sean Hannity. (The play, which premiered in 2004, doesn't deliberately anticipate Hannity's disturbing role in the Trump administration, but the possibility of playwright prescience does give pause.) Not wishing to leave the protective environment of her new digs, Dana feigns multiple personality disorder to keep her insurance company paying her bills, and here is where baseball comes in: she pretends to be the pro ballplayer Darryl Strawberry. Or, rather, she pretends to think she's Darryl Strawberry. It's kind of a silly plot on which to hang a play, but Gilman is actually pretty good at this, and the characters comical and believable enough.
And now I get to the really fun part. Sufferin' dodgeball! Is this a great cast! Debrianna Mansini, I hope, will forgive me for pointing out that as Dana, the artist, she reminds me so much of Kristen Wiig that it's almost spooky. Gillian Anderson, who originated this role at the Royal Court, brought folks to the box office because, hey, it's Gillian Anderson! And you can certainly come see this show and squint a little and feel like you're watching Kristen Wiig, but I have a better idea: come instead for Mansini's wonderfully warm and funny performance. I would even say she owns this production were it not for the fact that JD Garfield as fellow inmate "psycho" Gary has a gift for comic mania that is difficult to sufficiently laud. He is Tom Arnold on steroids and his performance reminds me of a one-man roller derby rampage. (I'm keeping my promise, notice?)
As snooty and snotty "gallerist" Rhonda and psychiatrist Dr. Gilbert, Talia Pura demonstrates two great colors from her kaleidoscopic acting arsenal. Danielle Reddick, who I'm happy to see a lot of these days, performs in the dual roles of fellow artist Briana (Brian in the script, but the gender change works fine) and Dr. Stanton with her usual aplomb. Sharon Henderson, playing Dana's friend and artist's representative Erica, grounds the play with believable kindness and sensitivity. And Hamilton Turner, as Michael, isn't just warm and fuzzy and goofy; he, like Sharon, gives The Sweetest Swing in Baseball a droll sweetness that takes Gilman's droll script to exactly where it needs to be. All plays should have a tasty nougat center, with actors who are talented enough to make the confection especially yummy.
Janet Davidson has done a nice job directing this chamber comedy. (Because Gilman wrote it to be double-castable for a minimum of five actors, you seldom see more than three actors on the stage at the same time.) My quibbles are few, but in the same way that the Harlem Globetrotters would allow the opposing team a few baskets for the purpose of hoops-verisimilitude, I should mention that far more could have been done with the set; it does seem kind of Goodwilly to this reviewer and missing any sense of aesthetic vision. There are also a couple of paintings of baseball-playing chickens (don't make me explain this; come see the play) that get overused, destroying the sense that these represent different paintings, although I understand the economy that drove this decision. But if this is the worst thing you can say about what is otherwise a wonderful theatrical romp ...
Come see this fun and funny show. I'm serious. And if you'll forgive this valedictory baseball reference: they're selling ballpark franks at the refreshment table in the lobby! Takes me back to my days in New York and all those wonderful trips to Shea.
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, through July 29, 2018, at the Studio Center of Santa Fe, 1614 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 4:00. For tickets and information, visit www.theatresantafe.org or 505-438-6078. The running time is just under two hours with one intermission.