NY Review: 'Swing State'

Go My Ohio at the 45th Street Theatre as apart of the New York Musical Theatre Festival

Reviewed by Erik Haagensen

July 24, 2012


Photo by Matthew Murphy
Not everything sings. Certainly not "Swing State," a tale of the unlikely friendship that arises between an emotionally damaged young gay chiropractor and a born-again Christian kindergarten teacher in rural Ohio, though lord knows there are plenty of songs. The characters are too thin, their wants are too small, and the story is seriously unpersuasive, despite the talented ministrations of actors Jed Resnick and Morgan Weed under Igor Goldin's earnest but flummoxed direction.

Neil has returned from New York City to the rural Ohio town where his Columbus-based family summered every year, because he wants to heal those who damaged him with their homophobia, so that he himself can heal. Bonnie regularly has major neck, jaw, and back problems and comes looking for the doctor from whom Neil impulsively bought the practice. (With all her issues, it's awfully unbelievable that she didn't know it had been sold.) She's suspicious of Neil's foreignness, both in his sexuality and city pedigree and in his different healing methods. But when her neck frees up, she's converted and insists that he come to her Bible-study class to get more patients. That is, until religious belief provokes an argument, and she rejects him. Well, until he heals her again. And so it goes.

Bonnie has a Big Secret that's far too guessable and fuels her desire to teach her students about her faith, something of course that's entirely inappropriate in a public school, though book writer–lyricist Dana Yeaton doesn't seem to understand why. When, already on probation for pushing religion on her charges, Bonnie decides to indoctrinate them on the subject of abortion in what amounts to an act of mental abuse, the show is far too blithe about her behavior, and any lingering hope of empathy for her is lost.

Neil's big hang-up is over having had his pants stolen by two bullies when he was 9, requiring him to walk home half-naked through town, only to have his grandfather ignore him. He clearly knows how to nurse a grudge.

A two-character musical is a difficult thing to structure, and Yeaton isn't up to it, awkwardly ping-ponging back and forth between Neil and Bonnie and jury-rigging reasons to bring them together. He also pads things out with unnecessary numbers, such as an entire song in which Neil tries to decide what to wear to the Bible-study class while unbelievably ignoring the fact that Bonnie is staring at him with a gaping mouth because her jaw has locked.

Andy Mitton's music repeatedly attempts to add substance through harmonic dissonance and rhythmic complexity, and there are some not-unattractive melodies, but it seems more determined than inspired—which pretty much sums up the specious "Swing State" itself.

Presented by Go My Ohio as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St., NYC. July 21–29. Remaining performances: Tue., July 24, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 25, 1 p.m.; Sun., July 29, 4:30 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or www.nymf.org. Casting by Michael Cassara.
 

 
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