Ring of Fire Walks the Line and Stumbles With Johnny Cash's Music

Also, Sweetest Swing Strikes Out

The ruse has unexpected consequences. In occupational therapy sessions, Dana-as-Darryl starts painting crude portraits of baseball-playing chickens (a twist on dogs playing poker perhaps). She signs Strawberry's name on the pictures, and her art dealer (Laurel Whitsett) slaps fat prices on them as the work of an "outsider artist." Back on top in the art market, Dana doesn't drop her new guise; without the gimmick, she's just another bipolar hack. But is she still faking it, or has Dana Fielding gone Field of Dreams and become her imagined alter ego? Will she be Strawberry/Fielding forever?

There are interesting possibilities that pop up all the way through The Sweetest Swing. Unfortunately, Gilman fouls out with every opportunity. She works in some slams at mental health professionals—Dana's shrink (Nancy Sherrard) is a failed actress, as if that means anything—and she reaches back, back, back to the plot of Boy Gets Girl to borrow a character who's locked up for being a psychotic stalker (played by the always interesting David Fluitt). Gilman's awkward commentary on the "What is art?" question goes nowhere, however. And she runs toward the issue of (badly) managed health care and then lets it drop.

Stage West's production also swings and misses at the comic potential in the play. Dana Schultes, usually onstage in major roles at this theater, is still a newbie director. This is only her second directing gig for the company, and with this one she's stuck with a lead actress, Brock, who amateurishly telegraphs every move, none of them funny.

Hear that rolling sound? It's Johnny Cash, reacting to the perky musical tribute to his life in Ring of Fire.
Hear that rolling sound? It's Johnny Cash, reacting to the perky musical tribute to his life in Ring of Fire.


Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash continues through May 25 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Call 214-631-ARTS.

The Sweetest Swing in Baseball continues through May 31 at Stage West, Fort Worth. Call 817-784-9378.

The transformation of a skinny white chick into the towering persona of Darryl Strawberry should be the turning point of the play. Dana's fellow crazies, the psychotic stalker and a suicidal gay man (Joshua Doss), offer her tips on baseball slang to use and coach her on player stats. They even joke about making her their own Eliza Doolittle. But Brock does nothing physically or vocally to indicate when she's Dana and when she's Darryl. As her psychosis deepens, we should see her slipping further from Dana and more completely into the ballplayer. But Brock doesn't even try the double play, which weakens Gilman's already shaky ninth inning.

Nutso girl plus mental hospital plus baseball player: Darryl, Interrupted.

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