Review: The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (Step Up Productions)

| April 2, 2012
Elizabeth Antonucci and Cara Olansky in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.” (photo credit: Rich Hein)       
      
The Sweetest Swing
      in Baseball
 

Written by Rebecca Gilman  
Directed by Audrey Francis
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru April 22  |  tickets: $25-$32   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     


     
       

First inning of Step Up Productions is a hit

     

Cara Olansky and Elizabeth Antonucci in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.” (photo credit: Rich Hein)

    
Step Up Productions presents
    
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball

Review by Keith Glab

Baseball season is finally upon us, but Step Up Productions’ staging of The Sweetest Swing in Baseball resonates as timely for less obvious reasons. Inside Studio One of the gorgeous Athenaeum Theatre, we are treated to Rebecca Gilman’s story of Dana Fielding (Elizabeth Antonucci), a paranoid and downtrodden artist who winds up in a mental ward after a failed suicide attempt. Since Dana is self-employed, her cut rate insurance plan will only cover a ten-day stay at the hospital. Perhaps you’ve heard some murmurings about similar issues in the news recently…

Elizabeth Antonucci and Todd Michael in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.” Far from being preachy, the show takes a humorous turn when Dana assumes the persona of Darryl Strawberry, an infamous baseball star who struggled with drugs and dejection, in order to extend her respite. Appropriately, the script also calls for doubling roles for the other four cast members so that all five actors essentially portray two characters each.

Elizabeth Antonucci turns the triple play of portraying the lead role, serving as artistic director, and co-producing. While she does an excellent job of spearheading this inaugural production of her new theatre company behind the scenes, her performance onstage doesn’t quite fit the part. Apart from looking too young for the role, Antonucci could have given way to a more experienced actor to unlock the full richness of her character. She gives Dana a very stoic quality with little modulation in her voice, which is an unusual choice for a character that is frazzled to the point of a breakdown. There is an opportunity for raucous humor in a slightly-built white girl’s portrayal of Strawberry, a six-foot-six black athlete, but Antonucci instead chooses to play the differences between Dana and Dana as Darryl very subtly.

Among the rest of the cast, Todd Michael Kiech stands out for his captivating portrayal of Roy, Dana’s ex-boyfriend, and Gary, a disturbed stalker she meets in the hospital. We only see Roy briefly, but in that time we see his heart breaking at the prospect of not being able to make Dana feel happy and secure, informing us as much about her character as anything she herself does during the play. Kiech steals the stage during Gary’s scenes, transitioning from contemplative and insightful to explosively dangerous at the drop of a pencil. His monologue about artists who quit is the highlight of a show that is studded with nice moments.

Emily Grayson and Elizabeth Antonucci in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.” Elizabeth Antonucci and Andrew Strenk in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.”
Todd Michael, Elizabeth Antonucci and Andrew Strenk in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.” Emily Grayson and Elizabeth Antonucci in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.”

Audrey Francis’ direction unearths these moments whenever she gives her cast interesting tasks to perform. John Wilson’s clean, minimalist set comes alive when the two mental ward patients are playing catch, for instance. In the times when she fails to give her cast clear activities, the actors can look a little uncomfortable onstage. The characters are also blocked a safe distance from each other for most of the show; seeing them get into each other’s grills more often might have added to both the tension and humor of the piece.

Not all audience members will be bothered by Michael (Andrew Strenk) coaching Dana on how Strawberry “won all these batting titles” when “The Straw” never even ranked among the league leaders in batting average or by Dana imitating Strawberry’s left-handed swing with a right-handed stroke of her own. Nevertheless, these are details that could have been corrected by the playwright and director with minimal research to satiate those of us who are baseball nuts.

Ultimately, this production of The Sweetest Swing in Baseball mirrors the playing career of Darryl Strawberry himself: While both are very good, we can’t help but wonder how great they might have been.

  
Rating: ★★★
  
   

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball continues through April 22nd at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $25-$32, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online at OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StepUpProductions.net(Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, which includes one 10-minute intermission)

Cara Olansky, Emily Grayson and Elizabeth Antonucci in Rebecca Gilman’s “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball.”

All photos by Rich Hein


     

artists

cast

Elizabeth Antonucci (Dana); Todd Michael Kiech (Gary, Roy), Andrew Strenk (Michael, Brian); Emily Grayson (Rhonda, Dr. Stanton); Cara Olansky (Erica, Dr. Gilbert)

behind the scenes

Audrey Francis (director); Stacey Field (stage manager); Daniel J. Cunningham (production coordinator); Robert Groth (tech director); John Wilson (set design); Matt Miller (lighting); Joshua D. Allard (costumes); Bridgette Baggio (painter, graphic design); Dorthea Walstrom (makeup); Randy Cromwell (props); Steve Baldwin (sound design); Elizabeth Antonucci (artistic director, producer); Greg Antonucci (managing director, producer), Rich Hein (photos)

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Athenauem, Keith Glab, Step Up Productions

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