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The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, Royal Court, London
A swing and a miss in the American game
By Paul Taylor
01 April 2004
What is it with the British theatre and American plays involving baseball?
It's not as though Broadway is rife with dramas about soccer or darts, or that
Off-Broadway reverberates to the sound of wood against willow.
Just two years back the Donmar Warehouse had a big hit with Take Me Out, a
Richard Greenberg piece that explored the homophobia and racism in the sport.
Where that play centred on an imaginary star player who was a fruit, The
Sweetest Swing in Baseball , Rebecca Gilman's new play at the Royal Court, invokes
a real-life player called Darryl Strawberry. What you lose on the
roundabouts, you win on the baseball swings.
Strawberry, a black sportsman with a history of inherited alcoholism and
publicised recovery, does not appear in the play, which is premiered in a
skilfully inflected production by Ian Rickson.
Instead, his identity is adopted by a female patient in a psychiatric
hospital whose insurance will cover only 10 days' stay in the institution and who
does not feel ready for the world. Dana Fielding was hot property in the American
art world until the critical pasting of her last show after her paintings
This coincided with the walkout of her understanding but sorely tried
Negotiating a depressive episode, she is convincingly played by the X Files
star Gillian Anderson with the fevered glow of a sick person who make you
understand why "hurting'' has, in our age, become an intransitive verb. Dana does
not want to leave and she does not want her personality altered by medication,
so she pretends that she thinks she is Strawberry to prolong her stay and fend
off the pills in the guise of drug-tested, honourable sportsmanship.
You think: Oh God, Gilman is surely not going to have the heroine find her
way back to art by painting in the persona of a deluded "outsider", which
liberates her from the conventions of the venal white art world? Oh yes, she does.
The parallel here is with Spinning Into Butter, Gilman's play about political
correctness and racism on the American campus, which also combined white
angst and an embarrassing absence of on-stage black characters.
The treatment of the psychiatric hospital is equally blush-inducing. Speaking
as someone who has benefited from the brilliance and humanity of doctors in
his own continuing struggle with clinical depression, I must say that I am
puzzled by the implication that Dana's shrink is only in the job because she
failed in her ambition as a dancer and her consolation is that she can help true
artists like Dana get back on to the road. The complacency is a bit rich.
As with most of Gilman's work, the batting average is not high, but