3Views is thrilled to continue our partnership with ArtsConnection's Teen Reviewers and Critics Program (TRAC), publishing real reviews written by NYC teenagers. In this mini-issue, we are excited to share two reviews by Angela and Zelda, two alums of the program.
With this partnership, we hope to foster a pipeline of connection and encourage young people everywhere to speak up about the art they love/hate/are confused by and acknowledge the indelible value of their voices. Learn more about TRAC here.
Swing State Review
By Angela Rosendo
I went to watch Swing State on September 16 at 7:00 p.m. It was performed at the Minetta Lane Theatre (a venue where Audible Theater produces its shows). Despite the theater's name, I didn’t expect it to be down an actual lane so I enjoyed the ambiance of the theater's location because it was very different from the bright lights I see whenever I watch something on Broadway. And somehow this cozy lane matched the play entirely.
On the exterior, the major conflict of Swing State (written by Rebecca Gilman and directed by Robert Falls) was Peg’s (Mary Beth Fisher), deceased husband's missing toolbox and gun. Sheriff Kris and Deputy Dani, played by Kirsten Fitzgerald and Anne E. Thompson, are then concerned for the safety of their small Wisconsin neighborhood and make it their job to find the gun. Because of the topic of the play, it maintained a warm yet serious tone, with the occasional break of laughter for satirical jokes about a small town that would make any New Yorker laugh. But when you delve even deeper, the play is also about the loss and loneliness that the characters experience.
Anne E. Thompson, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Mary Beth Fisher in Rebecca Gilman’s Swing State. Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
The creative team only used one set to make this warm feel of a Wisconsin small home on a prairie. This set (scenic design by Todd Rosenthal) included a kitchen with “antiques,” a personal library with a wall of books, and a rocking chair with a blanket on top of it, all of it practically shouting, “PEG!” It would have been nice to see more of the prairie than the one tree branch that was peeking through Peg’s window near the ceiling of her house, but I am glad that they didn’t include it. The characters described this prairie as a mystical place, even though the life on the prairie was decreasing because of pesticides from neighboring farms and climate change, it was clear that it was flushed with greenery and animals—an effect that I can’t imagine on stage without removing the enchanting essence of a real-life prairie. The front door to the home acted as a portal between the two worlds that the characters lived in and allowed the whole story to be told in one house because the characters would constantly walk in and out, whether invited or not.
My favorite character to see walk into the house was Ryan, played by Bubba Weiler. He seemed to be fresh out of school and often cursed in front of Peg, but from the beginning of the show, their relationship was obvious. It was like mother and son, and I believed that's what they were until we found out that Ryan was ignored by his parents and that Peg and her late husband had kind of taken him in as their own to help him. There was a moment in the play where Ryan was talking to Deputy Dani about an experience he had with Peg about the prairie, and I remember wanting to cry because he remembered everything about what she had told him. Weiler did an amazing job at conveying a child-like wonder that he had received from his “mom.” As Peg, Fisher also did a great job at expressing a range of emotions through her eyes- when she was sorrowful they teared but in the last scene when they were glassy it was because she was excited to start living again.
Bubba Weiler in Rebecca Gilman’s Swing State. Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
In the last scene of the show, Peg walks out with a sun cap on, fit for work under the sun. I think that the costumes (by Evelyn Danner) did a good job of considering the setting of the play. There wasn’t anything too flashy like in Moulin Rouge or Chicago, but that was mostly because there didn’t need to be. Sheriff Kris and Deputy Dani were seen mostly in their work uniform, and so was Ryan because they’d mostly pass by on the job or after it. The only wardrobe I wish was a little different was Peg’s; they can't possibly expect us to believe that a woman who works on a prairie every day has that clean of clothes! I know that it could’ve been freshly washed, but even if it was you’d expect it to look more worn, especially since Peg didn’t peg (see what I did there?) me as the type to buy new clothes just because the other one has a tiny hole in it. She's the kind of woman who would wear the same shirt until she has to get a new one.
Overall, I thought that the play was wonderful; it was nice to step away from the city and be transported into a small town. Even still, I saw my world represented on stage where climate change, politics, and suicide are issues. The play was real and it tackled these hard topics beautifully. Usually, I go to plays to escape from all of the terrors that the real world has to offer, but after watching Swing State I don’t think I have to run anymore.
My Thoughts on Swing State
By Zelda Gillespie
Note: This piece contains spoilers for Audible Theater’s production of Swing State.
I went to the Minetta-Lane Theatre with my sister on a Friday night to see Swing State. My first impression was that the theater was pretty small, which I thought worked in the show’s favor as there were only four characters that you really got to know well and so you could see everyone’s face up close and see small details on stage that added to the story.
This was a show trying to get you to be sympathetic towards two, and later three, of the main characters (Peg, Ryan, and Danny) and in order to do that you need to make the play seem as realistic as possible. You need to really imitate real life. While the director (Robert Falls) and possibly scenic designer (Todd Rosenthal) could have been more accurate with their portrayal of some tasks (for example, making zucchini bread) because seeing something done incorrectly when the intention was to make everything realistic takes you briefly out of the story, the way Falls ordered actors to actually sweep and cook in the detailed kitchen set made it very real most of the time. When Ryan spills seeds during a panic attack, I felt concerned about how Peg would react.
Mary Beth Fisher and Bubba Weiler in Rebecca Gilman’s Swing State. Photo Credi: Liz Lauren
The play was going for a dramatic theme with the main plot being about a widowed woman named Peg (Mary Beth Fisher) who owns a 40-acre prairie. She draws up a will giving the prairie to environmentalists, meanwhile giving the house to a young man named Ryan (Bubba Weiler) who Peg and her deceased husband spent time with. The will makes Ryan particularly concerned about Peg being preoccupied with her own death. This starts to get the play moving and helps the audience to understand why Peg was originally toying around with a knife, something that was the first noticeable plot point that really attracts interest.
Later, when Peg calls the local Sheriff Kris (Kirsten Fitzgerald) because some of her husband’s tools and his gun were stolen, Sheriff Kris immediately suspects Ryan which worsens the relationship between the two. You can feel the tension between them as soon as Sheriff Kris comes into a scene, Peg gets angry at Ryan after hearing Ryan went out to drink after he had been sober for years. This was quite upsetting to hear about and while I was disappointed with Ryan’s character, I was also partly frustrated at the sheriff for intervening and telling Peg the way she did because she uses that information unfairly. She then proceeded to say she was right that Ryan wasn’t a good person which wasn't well-meaning. When Ryan and Peg make up, Ryan gets Peg to admit that she has been forming a plan to commit suicide, something she has been thinking about since the death of her husband.
Kirsten Fitzgerald in Rebecca Gilman’s Swing State. Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Throughout this drama, I really gained sympathy for both Peg and Ryan and understood their struggles. Ryan admits he took the gun because he was concerned and had guessed Peg was considering suicide. But as they come to an understanding, Ryan gets the gun from under the porch and when he brings it back to Peg, Kris sees him with the gun, breaks in and angrily attacks him. Peg tries to explain Ryan was just trying to help her. When Kris is escalating everything, Ryan panics. So then Danny comes in and in the chaos shoots Ryan. The build up to that moment was intense and I really started to understand Ryan and why he was struggling and worrying about Peg, but I still didn’t expect the gunshot which added such a feeling of betrayal. I felt like the play’s pacing was slower at first, but it ended up with smoother pacing and built up to a heart-wrenching finish.
Overall, I had two big frustrations with the show. Number one: While they showed some of the process of Danny coping after she accidentally killed Ryan, it felt very unrealistic how quickly she managed to deal with it and even more unrealistic how quickly Peg was okay with Danny’s actions. Everything was really well done up until then in the play but it just didn’t feel so believable in regards to processing death and mental health. My other big, but less significant, frustration was that it introduced humor in ways I felt were unnecessary. I thought it really worked dramatically — from the content matter to the dramatic sound during a blackout transition in between scenes — but random jokes and other attempts at humor were distracting. Especially since the attempts at humor didn’t really work like when Peg said something depressing, Ryan said a sarcastic “well…aren’t you a ray of sunshine.” I get that they may have been trying to lighten up an otherwise tough show and help the audience get through it, but I don’t think those bits of humor need to be there.
Judging just as a drama, the understanding of Ryan that grows as the play goes on gets us from being neutral to him at best to sympathizing with him. I think the production effectively placed stories of the characters throughout the show to learn what we needed to learn as the play progresses. I really think this was one of the better plays I’ve seen. It's interesting and you get invested in the show and have strong feelings about the characters. Overall, I thought it was well written and the actors portrayed their characters convincingly and with care.