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Theatre: The Sweetest Swing in Baseball
By Alastair Macaulay
April 1 2004 18:09
Gillian Anderson - to my surprise - has
returned to the British stage, and at first seems to have broken through into
something close to greatness.
When she appeared in What
the Night Was For in 2002-03, I assumed she was just slotting a once-only West
End season into her CV as so many transatlantic stars have done. But
The star of the X Files is back. And during the first few scenes of
Rebecca Gilman's new play, you watch her with your heart in your
She plays Dana, a painter, who goes through trauma and attempted
suicide; she's tough, intelligent, defensive.
And Anderson is luminous.
She can seem overwrought without moving a muscle, as if her raw nerves were all
Gilman's writing in these scenes is excellent, and, when Dana
goes to a psychiatric hospital and starts to speak about drawing to a
fellow-patient, we have some of the most psychologically suggestive writing
about the practice of art since Pinter's Landscape.
But then the play
shrinks into near-farce. To stay in hospital, Dana pretends she thinks she's the
baseball player Darryl Strawberry.
Sure, Gilman takes us through this
into something larger: her Darryl persona both liberates Dana as a painter and
traps her as a person. The play is a psychological suspense story. But that's
not how most of it feels: the Dana/Darryl character makes it more like Tootsie -
the Dustin Hoffmann movie about an actor playing a woman to get work - only in
gender-reverse and without the laughs. We stop watching the anguished Dana with
Too bad. I watched the opening scenes with excitement: Anderson
seemed to have the material of a true Hedda Gabler. After her unaffecting
performance in What The Night Is For , I guessed the difference was due to
director Ian Rickson, who stages the play with classical
Anderson's technique is, at first, irradiated by a pained,
frozen, intensity and her eyes draw you in even more than her voice. Sometimes
tear-filled, they're often on the verge of passive-aggressive reproachfulness,
but they're also wary, feverish, always bright with a misery she never
Once she starts playing at being Darryl, something in those
eyes dims. Then, as in What the Night, there's the problem that she can't make
her vocal timbre affecting: it's a covered voice, reined-in, withdrawn even in
As an actress, she no longer seems an android but in a
play that lets her go off-stage for less than three minutes during 130 minutes,
she isn't yet the kind of human being who can involve you throughout. She can
claim your heart, but she can't keep it.