Off-Broadway Review: SWING STATE (Audible Theater at Minetta Lane Theatre)

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by Gregory Fletcher on October 9, 2023

in Theater-New York


The Chicago Tribune review of Swing State, as advertised on the production poster, charged me with excitement in seeing Rebecca Gilman’s new play. “Perhaps the first of the great American plays of this decade. It blew me away!” Well, I wish I had that same experience.

Mary Beth Fisher and Bubba Weiler

The naturalistic kitchen/living area designed by Todd Rosenethal is executed so well that it seems the room was sliced from a Wisconsin farmhouse and put onstage with ceiling intact. Generic enough; however, I had the impression I’d seen this play before it even started. Or maybe I was reminded of ‘Night Mother and many other kitchen-sink family dramas. Without seeing a single light instrument anywhere onstage, Eric Southern’s light design matches the naturalistic look with light fixtures and plenty of sunlight/moonlight shining through the windows.

Anne E. Thompson, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Mary Beth Fisher

Though I haven’t seen Rebecca Gilman’s work in a long time, she has impressive credits with Luna GaleA True History of the Johnstown FloodSpinning into ButterBlue SurgeBoy Gets Girl, The Crowd You’re in With and the 2001 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, The Glory of Living. Also, she’s the recipient of prestigious grants and awards. You can imagine my disappointment when she forces the protagonist to speak to herself at the top of the play. Surrounded by naturalism, the dialogue comes off as phony and trite—no blame to the actress Mary Beth Fisher who plays Peg; no actor could pull off such false dialogue.

Mary Beth Fisher

Thankfully, the rest of the play is competent, but rarely touching, which is also surprising. Considering a widow in her 60s is emotionally hurting and prepping to take her own life, but first goes to great lengths to care for a troubled young man, Ryan (Bubba Weiler), as well as the 40 acres of natural prairie surrounding her home, I’d expect the play to be more touching than it is. As much as I enjoyed the talk of birds, seeds, and prairie life, the main plot twists that fuel the play to its climax are predictable.

Kirsten Fitzgerald

With a four-person ensemble, all of whom originated the roles in the Chicago production at the Goodman Theatre, the casting by Lauren Port and Rachael Jimenez is pitch perfect. As naturalistic as the design elements, the actors also look authentic, as if picked from real life, aided by Evelyn Danner‘s costumes. They breathe such truth into every single moment onstage, especially Anne E. Thompson who plays Dani, the newly appointed deputy in town. I almost doubted they were actors in performance.

Bubba Weiler and Anne E. Thompson

With four decades of impressive credits, director Robert Falls’ work here is subtle. I wish he could’ve pulled off the opening moments of the play in silence. He has enough experience to have made an impression on the playwright to cut the weakness in her writing. Other than that, all the work onstage is so natural, it’s hard to know which are his contributions or not.

Anne E. Thompson

Lastly, don’t let the title of the play mislead you. It’s not a political play whatsoever. Peg makes one anti-Trump comment but it’s unclear where the other three stand. The play is a simple devastating story about some who care for others and nature, and some who do not. Sheriff Kris (Kirsten Fitzgerald) comes off as the ultimate bully in power, and because of her own anger and grievance of her son’s untimely death, she’s unable to serve and protect. Instead, she gets away with causing harm to others. A parallel to some law enforcement officers and politicians who should be relieved from their positions of service? Perhaps. Other than that, I don’t see any contemporary political relevance to the play. It could’ve been written decades ago and pulled from a drawer for this opportunity. I’m not saying it’s dated, it’s actually a well-made play. Just not “the first of the great American plays of this decade.”

Bubba Weiler

photos by Liz Lauren

Swing State
Audible Theater
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane
ends on October 28, 2023
for tickets, visit Swing State

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jade October 11, 2023 at 3:41 pm

Right from the start, I thought I was at wrong play. Though the acting was excellent, especially the lead, the play had nothing to do with the title Swing State at all. “Swing State” implies politics, but it was about a swinging state of mind (is that even a thing?). The poster was a photo of land, so one would assume Swing State was about politics in a State. Completely misleading! It was sad and dark with some violence and no politics. Very disappointing.


Chris October 11, 2023 at 3:54 pm

A play that is so old-fashioned that I expected Ida Lupino to show up. Well-constructed and well-acted, but a not very innovative social drama. So realistic in style, the only thing missing was the smell of zucchini bread baking.


Joan T October 11, 2023 at 4:03 pm

Swing State is a strong production of an OK play. Terrific ensemble acting and strong narrative. Packed with ideas and a lot to think about days after seeing this play. Although some of the plot didn’t seem realistic to us as well, we are glad we saw this production.


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