Technically, there are only four characters in Rebecca Gilman’s “Swing State,” a moody new play currently playing at Minetta Lane. There’s Peg (Mary Beth Fisher), a retired counselor; her troubled young neighbor Ryan (Bubba Weller); local Sheriff Chris (Kirsten Fitz) Kirsten Fitzgerald); Chris’ niece and submissive new deputy Danny (Anne E. Thompson). They all cause trouble for each other, despite their best efforts to help. But the fifth player — and the one we should really worry about — is Wisconsin. Is there anyone doing anything for Wisconsin? In 2021, when the title is teetering on the shaky ground, both socially and ecologically, Gilman situates us in that trembling landscape, even as her performance takes place entirely indoors.
Peg’s sprawling house sits on more than forty acres of so-called remnant prairie, a small portion of the Tallgrass Plains, an endangered ecosystem that dates back about 10,000 years. “There used to be millions of acres of land, all in the middle of the country, but now only about four percent remains,” she told Danny. Sheriff Chris is eager to get her hands on this uncultivated land—she desperately wants to see it “fully utilized” as productive farmland—but Peg is committed to protecting her wild remnants from the threat of corn and soybean monocultures . Biomes, however, don’t necessarily respect boundary markers, and nitrates from large farms are leaching into Peg’s groundwater as pesticides drip across her fence lines.
Although grasslands may look simple, they’re magical beneath the soil—they’re able to survive grazing, fire, and drought thanks to complex root masses that are as deep as fifteen feet. The elegant Fisher’s Peg has this quality too: there’s more to her than what we see. She had been devastated by the sudden death of her biologist husband a year earlier, and in her friendship with Ryan, who had recently served time for a felony assault conviction, it was unclear who needed the other more. (“All we do is apologize to each other. We have a weird relationship,” Ryan told Danny as he taped a note to Peg’s refrigerator.) Gilman sketched out a neighborly stewardship web A sketch. But when Pegg noticed she was missing some tools, the social network, already weakened by the pandemic and acrimonious political divisions, began to tear apart. When the police investigate, everything violently unravels.
Director Robert Falls brings his 2022 Goodman Theater production from Chicago to New York; the play is produced by Audible and will be released as an audio drama upon broadcast. The band’s lengthy production process honed certain aspects of the production to shine. Todd Rosenthal’s farmhouse set is very imaginative and rich with detail – we can see, on a high shelf, a jar of gumballs, which Peg must have kept handy, Just in case her students are passing by – so does Eric Southern’s lighting design, a series of gray skies outside and small lights inside in brave colors, reflecting the characters’ sense of embattled isolation.
Weller’s Ryan is still coming to terms with his role in a seasoned ensemble. He seems so intent on conveying the image of a “troubled youth” that he attacks the soup Peg makes him as if he’s never held a spoon. Fortunately, both Fitzgerald and Thompson do precise, natural work with Gilman’s subtly shaded dialogue and manage to make the off-stage community seem populous and real. But ultimately, “Swing State” fell to Fisher: She starred in the original version of Gilman’s most famous play, “Spinning to Butter,” in 1999, and this part was written for her. The production team believed she could hold our attention even as she moved in and out of the room alone. The play is deeply moving as Peg lists species that are disappearing from her prairie—paupers, nightjars, chorus frogs—and we see her longing to join their ranks.
Gilman has written a nonstop drama that builds to a climax, but at times struggles to impose conventional action on its heroine’s death drive and the abyss of the specter of a sixth mass extinction. Although Gilman’s characterization is very subtle, she can be a bit compelling as a plotter when she’s trying to speed things along. “Swing State” is the third drama I’ve seen this year that uses panic attacks or stress-induced seizures as dramatic fuel. (The other two are Christina Masciotti’s “No Good Thing in the Flesh” and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Retribution.”) For a playwright, having a character in a tense situation It’s certainly convenient to hyperventilate and talk loudly, but Ryan’s breakdown shows us Gilman’s skill. here They said this was a turning point.crescendo here.
Still, “Swing State” is a model of structural restraint compared with Theresa Rebeck’s tonally chaotic “Dig,” which was busy shoveling itself into a hole in Uptown’s 59E59 Theater. Rebeck also wanted to use plants—their resilience, their need for space and care—as metaphors, but the show failed incredibly. Rebeck has written dozens of acerbic social dramas. She notes that she is “the most prolific female playwright on Broadway today.” (Her fifth feature there, “I Need That,” will be released later this fall.) Over the course of her prolific career, she has written for numerous TV shows, such as “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order: Mens rea”. Comedy “Smash” was created for music lovers. Whether you’re happy with her other work or not, it’s solid. It follows certain laws of cause and effect.
But the characters in “Dig” defy recognizably human behavior and will say and do anything. The title of the play refers to the name of a plant shop, and some people on stage seemed inexplicably confused. “You don’t actually know what kind of store this might be,” one customer said, although she apparently managed to figure it out. The store’s owner, Roger (Jeffrey Bean), once claimed that he never sold flowering plants because he found them “too eager to please.” What? And, when Megan (Andrea Siglowski), a local pariah and the daughter of Roger’s only friend, tries to seduce Roger, she does so with a illogical tirade. “You’re acting like a virgin,” she said. No, he doesn’t. Who said that?
We know two core things about Meghan: She insists on telling everyone she meets her self-destructive truth (“It’s totally my mission,” she says, blaming AA for her oversharing) , and she is tortured by guilt for her actions. Leaving her child to die in an overheating car. When her evil ex-husband Adam (David Mason) slinks in like a mustache-twirling nineteenth-century villain — Rebeck, who also directed the show, made sure the show can be seen from outer space — We found out she had been lying. About her culpability. But Megan’s behavior, and even her first half of the scene with Adam, wouldn’t make sense without this sense of guilt. It’s as if the actors, the characters, and the playwright himself all discovered the twist at the same time.
I’m as capable of appreciating a feline drama as anyone, but “Dig”, with its insane melodrama and sickening, ripped-from-the-headlines violence, ultimately becomes repulsive.It’s one thing to be too lazy to research what’s going on in the plant store (this isn’t all repotting and pruning), it’s quite another to casually sexually assault an unconscious woman. Roger, chosen by Rebeck as her hero to do justice in the Wilderness of Evil, interrupts his former employee Everett (poor Greg Keller) during an attack and accuses him of taking advantage Meghan’s broken heart. Her heart? Instead of calling the police or a doctor, let alone telling Meghan what happened when she asked her the next morning, Roger yelled at her, then apologized, then looked meaningfully at a fake flower African violet. “It can be saved,” he said. Oh, Roger, no. Maybe your fake plant will do the trick—but that metaphorical potted plant you’re holding in your hand has been dead for about two hours. ❖