Bonnie has so internalized her guilt at having an abortion six years ago that she has not had a period since then and has painful attacks of sciatica. She turns to evangelical religion to help her with her guilty secret, but can't decide whether she wants peace or punishing pain. On top of that, Bonnie keeps getting in trouble with the school where she teaches kindergarten for mentioning God in class (not a big crime) and telling the students a story about an aborted fetus (irresponsible and a bit mad). Neil is a gay chiropractor who has come back to this Ohio small town, the scene of childhood bullying, to work on his own issues. Neil and Bonnie's turbulent relationship is the subject of SWING STATE. He not only cures her of her pain, but gets her menstrual cycle working again.
I had high hopes for this show, but found it frustrating. First of all, the book by Dana Yeaton is somewhat incoherent. It's one thing to avoid the cliche of the clash between a staunch evangelical and a gay man, but Bonnie is incoherent as a character. Is she a believer or a deeply troubled person? Both, yes, but she needs to be better drawn. Neil's reason for leaving New York for this small town doesn't make total sense. Didn't he have any friends or any life in Brooklyn? Why is he such a loner? For all the talk about religion, the writers don't delve into the internal conflicts it is causing. When Neil is invited to a prayer meeting, he worries about what he should wear rather than the possible rejection he will face there. When Neil tells evangelical Bonnie that he is gay, she does''t react at all, and Neil is given no reaction when he discovers Bonnie's grief and guilt over her abortion. These are missed moments of drama. When characters do have meltdowns, they don't seem dramatically justified. There's a possibly interesting script in here, but this one needs a major rethink. Second, the score (Music, Andy Mitton; Lyrics, Dana Yeaton) doesn't have much character. There are a few clever patter songs, but the music sounds like generic show tunes, and not very good ones at that. I'm not sure a piano-cello-guitar orchestration was the most effective choice for this score or story. Like everything else about the production, it softened the possible complexities and darker side of these characters.
Morgan Weed and Jed Resnick are winning performers, perhaps too winning for these characters, but singing isn't their forte. They get through the songs, but not much more than that. They're both too good looking for their roles. Weed is just too perky and nice for the very troubled Bonnie who has a major meltdown in front of her five year old students. Like the writers, director Igor Goldin seems to be avoiding the dark side of this work. The production looked nice, but needed more conflict. Everyone -- writers, director, actors -- seem to be going for like-ability rather than honesty.
At the beginning of this 100 minute, one-act show, I thought, "Great, a character driven, small show." By the end, I thought, "This show doesn't make any sense."
At least they got the air-conditioning fixed in the 45th Street Theatre. Last week it was a steambath. This week it's a deep freeze.
I am still grateful for NYMF, which is a very important institution for the future of musical theatre.
SWING STATE. New York Musical Theatre Festival. 45th Street Theatre. July 21, 2012.