The Art of Swimming is part of Tiny Dynamite’s A Play, A Pie, and a Pint series (the $20 ticket price includes all three). It’s modeled on the Scottish program that offers short plays and a snack at nontraditional theater times. Tiny Dynamite offers, American style, a slice of pizza, and a beer or soda at 6:30 p.m.
Of course, it’s a bargain only if the show is good. With The Art of Swimming, you might as well just go out for pizza.
The author, Lynda Radley, made herself one of the play’s two characters, both played by Lee Minora. Radley became obsessed with the story of Mercedes Gleitze — the other character — who was the first British woman to swim the English Channel. She found a picture in an old library book, and was, for reasons unclear or unknown, moved to write this play, although why swimming is an “art” is left unsaid.
The play alternates between the Radley character narrating Gleitze’s life and the Gleitze character narrating the grueling hours in frigid water. Having swum the channel, Gleitze became, briefly, a celebrity. We are introduced to such topics as women (well, then it was girls) in sports (insert gasp), and the fleeting nature of fame (insert sad nod).
The play presupposes our interest in long-distance swimming (feats in contemporary channel swimming make Gleitze’s 1927 record of 15 hours, 15 minutes pale; in 2006, a Czech woman swam it in 7 hours 25 minutes). It also presupposes you can make a play out of a Wikipedia article if you accompany it with a cello (played by Daniel Ison). KC MacMillan’s direction has Minora rushing around the cabaret tables, from one end of the large room to another, for no apparent reason than to shift the audience’s attention from one end of the room to another.
I am frankly mystified as to how two such talented and theater-savvy women as Minora and MacMillan could have believed The Art of Swimming was actually dramatic and therefore stageworthy.
The Art of Swimming. Tiny Dynamite at Headhouse Café, 122 Lombard Street. Through Dec.17. Tickets: $20. Information: tinydynamite.com