Thursday, April 29, 2010

Milwaukee Chamber Theater takes a swing at art

Dana Fielding is an artist. She is also crazy (disturbed and depressed is a more PC way of describing her condition.) Whether or not she’s delusional is another question the Milwaukee Chamber Theater’s current production puts to its audience. It’s title, “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball,” alludes to this and people who go to the show expecting something related to “Field of Dreams” or “The Natural” might be disappointed to find it’s about an artist (Fielding) who assumes the identity of Darrell Strawberry in order to…well, I’ll leave that detail for those who will go see the show. Then again, the more athletically inclined might enjoy the metaphors about being an artist that fly like balls from the bat of the famous slugger.

Thankfully, I’ve never spent time in a mental institution or tried to commit suicide, and hope never to sink so low. But, aside from such personal details, I found Dana Fielding’s artistic and psychological predicaments not only entertaining, but at times uncomfortably familiar. Are we mad who want to be artists? Can we speak truth through our art without being a bit disturbed? Or do we simply experience the world with such heightened sensitivity that we cannot help but be overwhelmed at times?

As Dana Fielding and the play’s audience discovers, art can be a trying vocation. Success is both elusive and hard to measure. At one point Fielding’s agent implores “I just want you to be happy!” Fielding snaps forcefully back “no you don’t!” and the audience is left to wonder if she can make art the establishment finds acceptable if she is not depressed. And of course, happiness doesn’t necessarily follow from success. This is powerfully demonstrated by the example of Strawberry’s meteoric baseball career, which flamed out quickly.

Art and "madness" - however the topic is described - has a long history. It's most famous case subject is Van Gogh, of course. A quick google search of the subject produced over 21 million hits. My wife, who attended the play with me and who is an art therapist, says it's a regular topic at conventions - not so much art therapy conventions, but psychiatric ones. Am I crazy to be an artist? I don't know, but one of my favorite lines from a Billy Joel song (You May be Right) goes "it just may be a lunatic you're looking for!" Oh, and "don't try to save me."

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball runs through May 2. More about it at the Chamber Theater.

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