25 March 2004 - 15 May 2004

Evening Performances:
Monday - Saturday 7.30pm

Saturday Matinees:
3, 10, 17, 24 April, 1, 8 and 15 May 3.30pm

Mid-Week Matinees:
29 April 3.30pm

Royal Court Theatre

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picture courtesy of gauk

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball
3 (out of 5) stars
Royal Court, London

Michael Billington
Thursday April 1, 2004
The Guardian

Emotional drive: Gillian Anderson as Dana. Photo: Tristram Kenton

It sounds like an evening for sports buffs. In fact Rebecca Gilman's latest play, starring Gillian Anderson, is about how to survive the culture of envy. And, while it displays Gilman's customary intelligence, it sometimes puts point-making above dramatic tension.

Gilman's heroine, Dana, is a 38-year-old New York artist in a slough of depression which intensifies when her latest exhibition bombs. After her attempted suicide, we find her in a psychiatric hospital. Threatened with being thrown back into the world when the insurance money runs out, she fakes multiple personality disorder. On impulse she assumes the unlikely identity of a legendary Afro-American baseball star, Darryl Strawberry, with an outcome that bears surprising fruit.

Clearly, Gilman is writing more than a portrait of the artist as depressive. She is tackling the commercialisation of everything, from art to baseball, in which middlemen determine individual value. More urgently, it's about the destructiveness of what an American sociologist called "the lonely crowd".

And, lest we miss the point, a psychotic fellow patient has an eloquent speech about all the wannabes in society who praise success while eagerly relishing failure.

All this is fascinating and palpably true: in all fields, from politics to the arts, we build 'em up to knock 'em down.

While I endorse Gilman's argument, it seems a little too neat that, for instance, the doctor in charge of Dana is a wouldbe dancer. When Dana herself advises her pyschotic chum on the importance of "negative space" in design, you know that's going to be a key metaphor.

And, though John Sharian is wonderful as a patient, he's so damn shrewd you feel he should be running the joint.

What gives Ian Rickson's production its emotional drive, though, is Anderson's astonishing performance. She starts out looking strained but seems transformed by assuming another identity. You see her becoming more resilient, wary and determined by the minute as she realises that the only way to survive in America is to create a protective other self; and, while the argument is Gilman's, it is Anderson who gives it memorable flesh.