A new play by Rebecca Gilman is always an occasion for the theater world to take notice. A play directed by Amy Glazer is always an occasion for Bay Area audiences to take notice. Thus it's noteworthy when the two of them team up with topnotch actors and designers for the American premiere of Gilman's "The Sweetest Swing in Baseball" at the Magic Theatre.
The premise is interesting. We meet a rising young artist, Dana Fielding (Barbara Pitts), in the back room of a gallery where her latest paintings are on exhibit. The neurotic Dana realizes the show isn't going well, a feeling reinforced by people who try to coax her out. First there's Roy (Michael Ray Wisely), her boyfriend who has tried to be loyal but who is on the verge of breaking up with her. Then there are Erica (Anne Darragh), her agent; Rhonda (Velina Brown), the gallery's owner; and Brian (Joseph Parks), a young artist who is faring better than Dana.
Next we see Dana in a psychiatric ward after she has tried by commit suicide by slitting her wrists. There she becomes friends with Gary (Wisely), who has a sociopathic hatred for a particular TV newsman, and Michael (Parks), an alcoholic. When she learns that her insurance will pay for only 10 days in the hospital, Gary and Michael advise her on how to stay longer. She heeds them and pretends to be Darryl Strawberry, the baseball superstar who was beset with drug and alcohol addictions -- much to the chagrin of her doctors, played by Darragh and Brown. She also begins to paint again.
Gilman, who also wrote such plays as "Spinning Into Butter" and "Blue Surge," both seen in the San Francisco Bay Area and both directed by Glazer, hasn't reached the level of those two works with this new one, especially with the somewhat predictable ending, but it's interesting nevertheless, especially in this production.
J.B. Wilson's simple set, defined by unfinished canvases, allows quick scene changes, aided by Kurt Landisman's lighting and Don Seaver's sound. Maggie Whitaker's costumes help to define characters, but the actors are so skillful in their portrayals that costumes are just icing on the cake. Pitts' performance is excellent, taking Dana through all her moods and her changing personas.
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