Step Up Productions inaugural production, “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball” by Rebecca Gilman ran March 23-April 22, 2012 at Studio One inside Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre. Director Audrey Francis selected an all-Chicago cast including Elizabeth Antonucci, Emily Grayson, Todd Kiech, Cara Olansky and Andrew Strenk.
Keith Glad of chicagotheaterbeat.com said:
Baseball season is finally upon us, but Step Up Productions’ staging of “The Sweetest Swing in Baseball” resonates as timely for less obvious reasons. […] we are treated to Rebecca Gilman’s story of Dana Fielding (Elizabeth Antonucci), a paranoid and downtrodden artist who winds up in a mental ward after a failed suicide attempt. Since Dana is self-employed, her cut rate insurance plan will only cover a ten-day stay at the hospital. Perhaps you’ve heard some murmurings about similar issues in the news recently…
Far from being preachy, the show takes a humorous turn when Dana assumes the persona of Darryl Strawberry, an infamous baseball star who struggled with drugs and dejection, in order to extend her respite.[…] Todd Michael Kiech stands out for his captivating portrayal of Roy, Dana’s ex-boyfriend, and Gary, a disturbed stalker she meets in the hospital. […] Keich steals the stage during Gary’s scenes, transitioning from contemplative and insightful to explosively dangerous at the drop of a pencil. His monologue about artists who quit is the highlight of a show that is studded with nice moments.
Catey Sullivan of Chicago Sun-Times said:
[…] Directed with smarts and sensitivity by Audrey Francis, Step Up Productions’ impressive debut cleverly delves into some substantial topics, among them the scourge/gift of mental illness and rampant creativity, the perils of celebrity, the integrity of art and the laugh-or-you’d-weep absurdities of health insurance.
In hopes of getting a “major” diagnosis (“Depression just won’t cut it,” the sociopath opines), [Dana] assumes the identity of one-time Yankee star Darryl Strawberry, insisting that her doctors address her as The Straw, and claiming to have no knowledge of anybody named Dana Fielding. It’s no small feat, instilling emotional honesty into such a potentially ridiculous premise, but Antonucci pulls it off, making it easy to empathize with both Dana and Dana-as-Darryl.[…] Step Up can lay claim to one of the funniest shows currently running in the Off Loop theatrosphere. That is capitalizes on humor without making light of soul-crushing depression is a credit to Gilman’s skills as a playwright.
LaShawn Williams interviewed Elizabeth Antonucci for gapersblock.com:
Williams: You’ve stated that you are “committed to bringing truthful, powerful, and relevant theater to Chicago” – relevant in what way?
Antonucci: “Relevant” in meaning that there’s so much going on in the world and in everybody’s lives—everybody feels hurt, mistrust and all these different emotions. I feel like there are so many great theatrical scripts out there that speak to this time in our lives and who we are in society and bringing those to light is what we’re really interested in doing. I think that’s what’s important to us as a theater company—evoking that emotion out of people and really having them come along the ride with us. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I figured this theater company is the best way to do it.
Williams: What message(s) do you want the audience to take away from this play?
Antonucci: […] I think what I’m dealing with and what I’m taking away from this show and what’s really helped me is that success is measured by what I feel it is and not all the time what other people say it is. That’s one of the main messages I hope everybody can take away from the show.
Elizabeth Antonucci spoke to Janet Arvia at Chicago Culture & Events Examiner and said:
Gilman brings such a unique approach to the portrayal of her characters by making them so real and relevant to what society is faced with. There is a very fine line between having success and being successful and this play is able to explore the various layers that define how one triumphs in the game of baseball and in the game of life.
Richard Eisenhardt of Chicago Reviews by Eisenhardt said:
Ms. Antonucci is a strong actress and audiences will discover this when they see [The Sweetest Swing in Baseball].
Alan Bresloff at Around The Town Chicago said:
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! […] it was a wise choice to open their existence with a Rebecca Gilman story as her work is simple and understandable and completes the “mission” that this young company is committed to bringing to the stage. …[There is] 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…
Matt Miller’s lighting works well with the set (John Wilson) using the space to its best advantage with a nice little surprise a the end—a wonderful way to end a solid production. 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!