Spotlight series tackles anxiety in latest performance of “The Swimmer”

Art imitating life is perhaps one of the oldest techniques when approaching discussing the mounting magnitudes of depression, loss and grief. The power of theater and visual art presents the ability to see emotion take place, and process it immediately – allowing for a potential empathetic or sympathetic moment to occur.

In the most recent installment of Suffolk University’s Spotlight series, senior theater major Kelsey Whipple attempted to tackle the ongoing societal conversation regarding anxiety management and how the general public approaches openly talking about it in an adaptation of F. Xavier Hogans “The Swimmer.”

A metaphor for dealing with impending stress and anxiety, “The Swimmer,” acts as excellent outsider perspective as to how different types of people react to those under great pressure from life and living. From the effervescent person who believes they can “fix” an anxious person through the power of wishful and positive thinking, to that of the nagging older generational woman who believes those suffering from a mental disorder are simply lazy and unwilling to comply to old school methods of “sucking it up and dealing with” the fragmented facets of life.

Beginning with a cold-open of a high-energy performance of a man appearing to drown, it’s immediately clear that this man is panicked due to his inability to swim. While it’s not clear as to how or why he’s been put into a position where his life is in danger, it becomes increasingly obvious that this body of water is to become a motif throughout the production.

The play itself brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “in over your head.” On more than one occasion the unnamed man willingly jumps into the body of water, similar to that of someone who willingly takes on more responsibilities and tasks without first considering that it may be too much time and work for them to take on at once.

“If you don’t deal with it yourself, it’s very hard to imagine what other people deal with,” said Whipple in a post-show interview with The Suffolk Journal. “I think a lot of these people in real life try to be helpful, but the way that they go about it ends up seeming like this to the person who’s dealing with it.”

Standout performances from sophomore theater major Gracie Libby and junior theater major Kaleigh Ryan left the audience cackling as they continued to berate the unnamed drowning man, questioning him on his inability to pick himself up out of an otherwise undesirable situation.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this play, is that no matter how difficult a life may appear from the outside, and how much a person may complain about their given situation, “The Swimmer” makes it a point to show that no one really cares about anyone’s problems but their own, a sad but accurate truth that seems to have been adopted into today’s society. How this plans to be solved in the ever-roaring conversation regarding mental health remains to be seen. Though with small acts such as this one, the discussion has at least a starting ground to cast off from.

“It’s something I wanted to talk about,” said Whipple. “I said, ‘let’s not do art for arts sake, let’s do art for something bigger.’ Whether or not people take something away from it is up to them, but that’s what I wanted to do.”