The Sweetest Swing in Baseball

The beauty of a well-conceived metaphor is that it reveals truths that would never see the light were the same ideas spelled out for us. In playwright Rebecca Gilman's latest work, Dana Fielding, an artist of a certain age, goes over the edge after a dismal show and decides to adopt the persona of troubled former baseball great Darryl Strawberry. Then, with a swagger and a cocky smile, a unique universe filled with unexpected truths steps up to the plate, works the count, and connects with something resembling what was, in its day, The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.

Gilman shows off her impressive intellectual range—mixing the commercial world of fine art, the ravages of manic depression and psychosis, the pros and cons of pharmaceutical therapy, the disquietude of passive-aggressive behavior, and, of course, the perfect symbolism of baseball—on her way to an unpredictable, if somewhat cynical, ending.

Kathleen McCall as Dana
Kathleen McCall as Dana
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Kathleen McCall dazzles us with a kinetic, quirky Dana, drowning herself in wine on her way down, finding a renewed passion for art during the vulnerable, rudderless void of recovery, and finally, recreating herself in the hybrid image of a talented and conflicted athlete-turned-artist.

Kathleen McCall as Dana and Megan Byrne as Dr. Gilbert
(L to R) Kathleen McCall as Dana
and Megan Byrne as Dr. Gilbert
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Along the way, Dana rides an emotional rollercoaster with everyone close to her—the boyfriend, Roy, the agent, Erica, the gallery owner, Rhonda, and the shrink, Dr. Gilbert—even throwing her confidant and fellow patient, Michael, for a loop before finally landing in a strange space, not far from another fellow patient, the psychopath, Gary.

Sam Gregory as Gary and Kathleen McCall as Dana
Sam Gregory as Gary and
Kathleen McCall as Dana
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Ironically, Roy, who, as he leaves her, tells her he's a boyfriend not a mental health professional, is double-cast with Gary, who, in one of his medicated rants, tells her that all her so-called friends' and associates' good wishes are just the flip side of their death wishes for her—a point that Gilman deftly illustrates with a true story about an artist who was ridiculed in life and celebrated after her suicide. Sam Gregory has field day switch-hitting as the spineless, undependable Roy and the outspoken and edgy Gary.

Caitlin O’Connell as Erica and Kathleen McCall as Dana
(L to R) Caitlin O’Connell as Erica
and Kathleen McCall as Dana
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The three other double-castings inform us as well, but in doing so bring us to question the black comedic resolution that Gilman provides for Dana: Caitlin O' Connell's Erica is warm and concerned as well as professionally encouraging, not far afield from her Dr. Stanton, who takes a laissez-faire attitude toward Dana's apparently opportunistic persona change; while Megan Byrne's Rhonda is more self-possessed than her Dr. Gilbert, they are both shrewd, outspoken, and savvy specialists; Brad Heberlee's Brian tries to tip toe around Dana's issues that his counterpart, Michael, meets head on.

Kathleen McCall as Dana and Brad Heberlee as Brian
Kathleen McCall as Dana
and Brad Heberlee as Brian
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The conundrum here is that Erica and Michael seem to be compassionate characters, yet Dana is easily swayed by Gary's involuted logic that argues the name of the game is to watch out for number one. The structure of the play is comedic, and in a dark way, Dana's kooky transformation is funny (which is why the mugging works in this context). But the objective of theatre is transformative healing (through catharsis [tragedy] or laughter [comedy]), which involves more than simply reflecting common (and degrading) societal behaviors, which is what we are left with in Dana's final comment.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Rebecca Gilman's The Sweetest Swing in Baseball runs through May 26th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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