Fear not, sports fans, the Annie Russell Theatre will be up to bat with its first performance of the 2011-2012 theater season this Friday.
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, directed by Dr. Jennifer Cavenaugh and starring Alexis Riley ’13, is not only a well-acted and thought-provoking meditation on art, art criticism, life, death, fame, sanity, insanity and baseball player Daryl “The Straw” Strawberry but is also an excellent start to the season, running Sept. 23 – Oct. 1.
Sweetest Swing takes painter Dana Fielding, who has an artistic and nervous breakdown following a romantic breakup and bad critical reviews, through the realization that she likes life in the psychiatric ward. However, her insurance will only cover a 10-day stay there, so, with the help of two other patients in the ward, she decides to fake multiple personality disorder in order to buy herself more time there, posing as former New York Yankees player Daryl Strawberry. “Doing this allows her to get her artistic confidence back,” says Cavenaugh.
Riley gives an excellent, multi-layered performance, alternating between deflated hopelessness and comic self-deprecation as Dana during the first half of the play, then creating an entirely new persona for Dana’s impression of Daryl Strawberry in the play’s second half.
As the character of Daryl begins to take on a life of his own, the audience is left with the question: Which is more real, Dana or Daryl? The play’s ambiguous ending only serves to open up more questions about Dana’s mental state and the definition of sanity itself.
Riley used this ambiguity to shape her character, saying, “Generally, [when I create a character,] rather than starting with a fully-formed character, I start with myself. What I found was that many characteristics of Dana were just heightened characteristics of myself. That’s the big thing—not everyone can relate to a mentally ill character. But we’ve all had experiences where we’ve felt pressured or disappointed.”
Convincing performances are also given by Kaitlyn Schirard ’12, who plays Dr. Nancy Gilbert, Dana’s psychiatrist, and by Jonathan Perry ’13 and Ryan Lambert ’13, who play Dana’s two friends at the psych ward, a recovering alcoholic and a psychotic stalker, respectively.
The themes explored in Sweetest Swing will be making further appearances at the Annie this season. “This is a really interesting season,” Cavenaugh says. “All the plays this season look at the intersections of art and science, and they all look at creativity, at what blocks and enables it. We stop ourselves from creating because of fear, but what releases us from that fear? Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, or, in this case, a leap of insanity.”
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball opens Friday, Sept. 23 at the Annie Russell Theatre at 8 p.m. To purchase tickets, get show times, or for more information about this season’s shows, call the box office at 407-646-2145 or go to www.rollins.edu/theatre.