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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dark Comedy in Milwaukee Chamber’s ‘Sweetest Swing in Baseball’

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Theater, like any art form, is a matter of context. Mary MacDonald Kerr is a great local actress, so placing her on the stage in a prominent role is always a good idea. Placing her on the stage as a struggling artist in a large city is a particularly good idea, especially in the context of a Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production staged in the Broadway Theatre Center, ensconced as it is in a neighborhood buzzing with activity from art galleries and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

Rebecca Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing in Baseball is a decidedly dark comedy about Dana, a talented, witty, charismatic artist (appropriately played by Kerr) who winds up in a psych ward after a notably bad gallery show. The reason she’s committed to a psych ward? After the bad show, she tried to commit suicide. (This is a comedy, and it’s actually quite funny.)

Things get a little odd when Dana realizes that her health insurance will only allow her to stay in the hospital for a very brief time. After all, according to the insurance, her suicide attempt doesn’t measure up to the mental illnesses of her fellow patients at the ward. One of them had been stalking a CNN news anchor (that’s Gary, played by Peter Reeves) and another is a recovering alcoholic (Michael, played by the dashing Nicholas Harazin). With her time at the ward running out, Dana decides to fake a mental illness.

Considering the large menu of possible disorders listed in the DSM-IV that would get one a longer stay, Dana’s feigned psychosis is an odd choice. She decides to convince mental health professionals that she thinks she’s Major League Baseball star Darryl Strawberry. Given that Dana knows little of the 6-foot-6-inch baseball legend, Gilman’s sense of the absurd goes a long way. The script has her feigning the delusion without imitating Strawberry. Kerr’s talent should cover a great deal of ground with her typically bright and sympathetic stage presence. With Harazin, Reeves, Laura Gray and Linda Stephens rounding out the cast, this should be a fun end to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s 2009-2010 season.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of The Sweetest Swing in Baseball runs April 15 through May 2 at the Broadway Theatre Center.