Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball sparks dialogue about the healthcare system

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, directed by Emily Sheeran (U3 Arts), currently playing at Morrice Hall until Oct. 20, centres around the failures of the mental health system. Written by Rebecca Gilman, Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre (TNC)’s production presents an unfiltered account of a suicidal painter’s struggle with manoeuvring both the art world and the healthcare system.

The play follows Dana (Maria Jimenez, U2 Arts), a 30-something artist, as she crumbles into a depressive spiral brought on by the collapse of her personal life and the unrelenting pressure from her peers to produce consistently stunning art.

When a suicide attempt forces Dana into a 10-day stint at a rehabilitation centre, she fakes a more serious mental illness—multiple personality disorder—to extend her stay. After reading his self-help book, Dana decides to assume the identity of baseball player Darryl Strawberry.

Jimenez is convincing in the role of Darcy, effortlessly switching between her two personas, while trying to reclaim her love for painting. Her performance never stretches credibility in an otherwise-unbelievable plot.

The minimalist setting—only a few chairs and easels serve as backdrop—directs the audience’s attention toward her emotional journey and her progression into a new stage of her life. No location is visually-distinguishable from another, which gives the actors more responsibility in activating a sense of setting.

At the rehab centre, Dana spends time with Gary (Aidan Dmytriw, exchange student), a sociopath memorable for his dark humour and tense monologues, and Michael (Antoine Guimbal, U2 Arts), an alcoholic. The chemistry between Jimenez and Guimbal shines through in their characters’ budding friendship. Michael, whom Guimbal plays with striking genuineness, is Dana’s only true support, and a trustworthy listener and ally.

Dana’s art dealer, Erica (Arielle Shiri, U2 Arts), on the other hand, embodies the trope of the well-intentioned friend lacking in sufficient empathy. Dana and Erica have a complicated relationship: Erica sees herself as Dana’s friend, yet, to Dana, Erica represents commerce, obligation, and the harshness of the art world. The play’s dialogue conveys their relationship effectively; Shiri fully commands the stage and excellently portrays subtle frustration in her inability to get Dana to open up to her.

Sheeran’s decision to have all actors, with the exception of Jimenez, play two roles was deliberate and effective. The creative choice brings out similarities between characters, drawing parallels between Dana’s experience with the healthcare system and the art world.

Caitlin Heiligmann (U2 Arts) plays Rhonda, a cut-throat art dealer, and Dr. Gilbert, Dana’s skeptical psychologist—two characters who represent barriers to Dana’s ambitions, inside and outside of the rehabilitation centre.

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball manages to broach the topic of mental health thoughtfully without sensationalizing it. The script is peppered with light humor to paint a bittersweet portrait of an artist coming to terms with her own setbacks. In the midst of a cultural conversation about mental health, The Sweetest Swing in Baseball finds its place within campus discourse.

TNC’s The Sweetest Swing in Baseball is playing until Oct. 20 in Morrice Hall in the Islamic Studies Building, 3485 Rue McTavish. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 general admission.

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