One of the high spots in our theater community is watching young troupes come to life and grow. Often, when a new company is formed, it is a case of “vanity”, where they either didn’t like the works of another company they were working with, or didn’t get the roles they felt were deserved by them. Over the years, I have seen some of these companies choose the wrong plays, the wrong actors and in many cases, the wrong directors, so when I receive the invitation to a new company, I always find myself wondering what the experience will be. But, I do go. I want to see young companies with new talent find the niche that will help them grow as many of our storefront theaters and “rent-a-theater” companies have over the years. Well, we have another new player in the community!
Step Up Productions was formed in 2009 and yet they are doing their first production here in 2012, so it certainly shows patience on the artistic staff who waited to find the right script that would fit the talent of the company. They are committed to” producing theater that speaks to the deepest truths about people and society by bringing powerful and relevant theater to Chicago”.This being the case, it was a wise choice to open their existence with a Rebbecca Gilman story as her work is simple and understandable and completes the “mission” that this young company is committed to bringing to the stage.
“The Sweetest Swing In Baseball” speaks to everyday people and what may be transpiring in their lives. Dana Fielding ( a strong performance by Artistic Director and founder of the company, Elizabeth Antonucci, who shows that she is not in this for the vanity, but has true talent) is an artists, who is having problems in her career and her personal life. She has talent as an artist but is not in demand as she would have liked to be and her boyfriend is seeking a change in their relationship, causing her to “lose it”. Not knowing where to turn or what will become of her, she attempts to hurt herself, is found and brought to a mental hospital. While she wants desperately to find herself, it turns out that he insurance will probably only cover a week of residency there and fearing going back into the world, and so when two patients she has become friendly with tell her that she might get to stay if she takes on a more defined personality, allowing for more observation, she latches on the a book about Darryl Strawberry and begins to take on his persona.
She is aided by the two new friends/inmates, ( two powerful, comic and touching characters played to perfection by Todd Michael Kiech and Andrew Strenk) as she knows very little about baseball or sports and yet as the story progresses, Dana/Darryl begins to grow a new personality, a combination and since the docs cannot prove that she is faking it just to stay in the hospital, she grows on them and as her therapy begins to paint. Yes, art becomes her release and all of her paintings are baseball related with chickens instead of people. Her agent/friend Erica deftly handled by Cara Olansky, who also plays Dr. Gilbert takes her paintings to the gallery where she once had a showing( in fact the night before her incident) and the pieces sell quickly. She produces more and has her own showing and what happens is magical ( I won’t spoil the ending for you) as her work becomes tha big hit and Dana learns that the issues that brought her to this point are no longer issues that will keep her form her true identity. By the way, the other two female characters are played by the lovely Emily Grayson.
This production is being performed in the Studio Theatre of The Athenaeum Theatre located at 2936 N. Southport ( at Lincoln Avenue), an older playhouse complex that is under new management and slowly but surely, will begin to make each of the theater’s a bit more comfortable. This production needs a small and intimate space with very little in the way of set as it is Gilman’s story and words that will make you laugh and make you think and under the direction of Audrey Francis, this 1 hour an d45 minute production ( there is an intermission) moves very swiftlly. Steve Baldwin handles the sound and music and I will tell you that sometimes actors in a small space forget the “play to the back row” actors motto, so pay attention, as the words that Gilman penned are wonderful and you don’t want to miss a single one of them. Matt Miller’s lighting works well with the set (John Wilson) using the space to its best advantage with a nice little surprise at the end- a wonderful way to end a solid production, and I cannot forget the props, Randy Cromwell who manages to get all the “stuff” that is needed to make this show work I am not sure who is responsible for the “chicken paintings” used, but they are wonderful!
“The Sweetest Swing in Baseball” will continue at The Athenaeum Theater through April 22nd with performances as follows:
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundys ( except Easter Sunday) at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $32.50 and are general admission, so first come-first served. Studnets and seniors are $25.50
To order your ticketsvisit www.athenaeumtheatre.com or call 773-935-6875. If you visit the website you will see the other productions that are contained in this historical building
Parking is not a major problem in the area as most of the meters stop at 6 p.m. and there is some other parking along the building. There are several local restaurants with a full menu and just down the street, the best Colombian Steak House in Chicago, LasTablas.
To learn more about ths company and the plans they have, visit www.stepupproductions.net