“Swing State” is one of the most moving plays you will see this season, and Audible Theater is presenting it at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane in Manhattan). It tells the story of Peg, a widow and a nature lover, living on the prairie in Wisconsin during the pandemic.
After the sudden death of Jim, her husband of 20 years, and the passing of a year since his death, Peg finds herself depressed. Not only has she lost her love, but she is witnessing animal species dying out on the prairie due to manmade causes like pesticides. The only person she comes in contact with is Ryan, a young man with a troubled past who has lost both of his parents.
Theirs is a complicated relationship. Both these characters need each other to find any purpose in life.
The truly amazing part of witnessing this powerful play is to watch as the phenomenal story by Rebecca Gilman unfolds before your eyes. This play is about loss, about finding new purpose in life, and about the bitterness that you can carry deep inside when another person is connected with taking something away from you.
There are only four characters on the stage—Peg; Ryan; Kris, a female sheriff; and Dani, her niece who is also her deputy—but the stories of these characters and the beautiful, vivid way that Gilman connects them is something with which we can all identify.
There are several moments in this play that will make you smile, moments that will make you sob, moments that will make you sad beyond comfort, but there are also moments of the rebirth of hope, and that is what life is all about. Peg goes through a very dark patch, but the question about dark patches in our lives is how do you face the next day? There is something so very real, touching, and inspiring about this play.
I love the fact that this production—which is dramatic perfection incarnate—is the original cast who performed the play in Chicago at the Goodman Theatre. Mary Beth Fisher delivers a lovely, touching, powerhouse performance as Peg. You understand the stages of grief that her character is going through and you understand her love and appreciation for Ryan, her love of the prairie and the animals that mankind has put in danger, and her dilemma about finding a purpose—to want to be here. Fisher is so at ease on stage; she is a sterling example of what an acting masterclass looks like.
Bubba Weiler gives an extraordinary performance as Ryan, a young man who came into the lives of Peg and her husband Jim as a child in need, and they fulfilled his needs for positive attention and love that he did not receive from his parents when they were alive. Weiler plays Ryan as an almost basic character with a negative childhood, who’s been in trouble with the law and still associates with troublemakers in his community, but who also has a deeper level to his character. Weiler lets the character show his vulnerability and makes it sympathetic. Well done!
Kirsten Fitzgerald is stunning as Sheriff Kris. She is a very human character who is not only the law but has an ax to grind and does it with great aggression and purpose.
Anne E. Thompson is moving as Dani. Thompson plays the role with a lot of heart, innocence, and compassion.
I must warn you that people were not only crying during the show, but afterward in the bathroom line. This is a show that will touch your soul. You will be moved. It is a show that makes you realize that whatever has befallen us in life, we must find a purpose to go on. You can’t change anything wrong for the better if you’re not here. And Gilman makes you realize we are all connected and need to interact with each other in positive ways to encourage and counsel each other.
Robert Falls’s direction is flawless. The creation of the detailed home—kitchen, dining room, living room area—was the incredible work of Todd Rosenthal. This set was impeccable!
Evelyn Danner provided costumes, Eric Southern did lighting design, and original music and sound design were the work of Richard Woodbury.
I felt blessed to have seen this show; go and receive your blessing. You have through Oct. 21 to experience this show. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. For more info, visit www.swingstateplay.com.