The Sweetest Swing In Baseball
By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Fran Hilgenberg
Starring Jamie-Lyn Hawkins
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL
So, are you hip enough to get into the Artist Club? Funky hairdo, overpriced leather jacket, and a tattoo of a Matisse on your butt are a start, but until you can explain the difference between “Figurative” and “Giclee”, you might as well buy your culture at the Sears. Diane Fielding (Hawkins) flames out early and this evening’s gallery customers drinking cheap white wine in plastic cups arenâ€™t buying. Looks like we need critics to explain what art means before we can love it or regard it as random pots of paint tossed on the canvas.
A mistrustful relation with her boyfriend and a tendency towards psychosis leads to a suicide attempt and relocation to the Discount Looney Bin. It turns out psychosis is just another club with different jargon and tougher entrance requirements. “Multiple Personality Disorder”, “Manic Depressive” and “In Recovery” are the code words, and status revolves around your insurance carrier. Dana likes it in here, it’s safe and no hard decisions need be made. Dana finds mentors in psychotic stalker Gary (Dean Walkuski) and professional alcoholic Michael (Doug Shorts). They show her the ropes, and when she adopts the personality of baseball ledged and train wreck Darryl Strawberry, they brief her on baseball stats and lingo. There are clubs everywhere, if you look hard enough.
There’s plenty to contemplate on this concrete gray stage full of empty frames designed by Paul Horan. Dana finds a mirror to her real world life in the asylum, seeing distant yet controlling authority in Lori McCaskill as both gallerist Rhonda and therapist Dr Gilbert. Mr. Walkuski gave a surprisingly strong and active performance, including an excellent rant on the subject of art that pretty much summarizes the show’s central theme. Marcie Schwalm represents Concern, and as Dana’s only true friend in real life (Ericka) and in asylum life (Dr Stanton), she continues to care through the deep abyss of mental illness. The genuinely likeable character falls to Doug Short – even with the distraction of his really noticeable tattoo can be forgiven in his portrait of the friendly, not-that-self-destructive alcoholic.
There’s plenty of humor in what might be a real downer of a story, and that keeps us in the world of the surreal without needing to deal with the real tragedy that might overtake “Sweetest Swing.” The only rough spot is Dana’s transition to Darryl. It drops out of the sky, and seems weakly motivated, but once Dana starts Working Her Program, everyone buys in, at least enough to keep Dana safe and sound until she finds her own way forward. The minor question, though, is left unanswered – is a portrait of a chicken in a baseball hat standing in the outfield “Real Art?” Or is it the sort of temporary kitsch that you’ll set out on the curb one morning? When you tire of it, call me first, I like pictures like that.
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