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Sunday Telegraph (LONDON)
By John Gross
April 04, 2004
She goes mad for baseball Theatre
The Royal Court has invested heavily in the young American playwright Rebecca Gilman. With good reason. She's gifted and original: her last play in particular, Boy Gets Girl (about a stalker) exerted an extraordinary grip.
Now she is back with The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, which isn't really about a baseball player, only about someone who ends up pretending to be one. She is Dana, a painter in her late thirties. She is already troubled when we first meet her. Then her boyfriend leaves her, her show at the smart New York gallery where she exhibits is a flop, and it's all too much. She cuts her wrists and gets sent to a psychiatric hospital.
She's comfortable there, but her insurance cover quickly runs out and the doctors decide that she can be sent home. In order to persuade them that she needs to stay, she fakes a personality disorder: she pretends to be suffering from the delusion that she is really Darryl Strawberry, a legendary black baseball player who destroyed himself with drugs and drink. (She actually knows very little about baseball: she found out about Strawberry by chance, in a book which one of the other patients lent her.)
The Sweetest Swing touches, often tellingly, on a number of major themes. It is about ambition, depression and envy, about integrity, survival and the machinations of the art world. But it's also a mess. The tone veers disconcertingly between near-tragedy and farce; there are wild implausibilities; the Darryl Strawberry stratagem often seems more like a stunt on behalf of the author than a desperate move on behalf of the character.
Yet a more serious treatment of the same kind of material wouldn't necessarily yield more engaging results. There is plenty to stimulate and entertain in Ian Rickson's production; above all there is some admirable acting. As Dana, Gillian Anderson soars far above The X Files. Her performance is taut and intelligent. She captures both the self-containment of depression and the curious strength it can confer, while her attempt to masquerade as Darryl Strawberry is a tour de force of incongruity. There is excellent support, too, especially from John Sharian as an unnerving psycho and Nancy Crane as an iron-willed art dealer.