note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey
"The Swan", Elizabeth Egloff's quirky fantasy-romance, is having its Boston premiere at the Nora Theatre Company this March. The "romance" occurs when a wounded swan crashes through the living room window of a nurse's aide ( Natalie Brown) who is more at home with married men than stray animals. The swan takes up residence --- and more importantly takes on human form, gradually turning into the man of her dreams ... or perhaps she is the swan if his dreams. It's clear their destinies are intertwined.
Poets and painters have adored swan mythology through the centuries, so why not a contemporary twist to the legend of Leda & Zeus disguised as a swan! Egloff, however, turns the tables on the familiar images of the Italian masters, who always painted Leda in the nude. Here it's the swan who's naked --- and vulnerable.
And what a handsome swan he is, in the person of Barlow Adamson, lithe, regal and so swanable. He hisses majestically; he elegantly grooms his feathers and glides so smoothly across the stage. Herein lies the flaw in Egloff's story: she sets a nifty triangle with the married man (Scott Kealey) Dora is dating and this exquisite creature who needs her --- and as swans are wont to do will mate with her for life. It's no contest. The human guy is a bozo who shouts all the time, and he'll cheat on her just like he's cheating on his wife.
Had there been a real choice for Dora to make, we might be in suspense. Egloff disappoints, too, in her ending. Had she gone the "happily-ever-after" route --- they swim off together into the sunset --- or the tragic operatic route --- she makes the ultimate sacrifice, gives up human life only to have him die in her arms --- we would be swept away ... instead of confused. Egloff leaves so many threads dangling and offers us an inexplicable vision to end the play that we're left scratching our heads. Why, for instance, would a vegetarian swan kill a rabbit? What does a dead rabbit symbolize apart from pregnancy --- which doesn't fit here? Why would the boyfriend bring steak as a gift and leave it on the floor in front of the swan? It wouldn't be interested in eating it. Was it poisoned? Wouldn't Dora then be poisoned? And that wedding gown. Wouldn't a swan-in-the-throes-of-transformation put it on, the same way it donned neckties earlier? And so on and so on.
Questions aside: The Nora production is delightfully engaging --- despite the disparate acting styles. Brown and Kealey are performing farce while Adamson is giving a naturalistic realization of the swan --- something which director Scott Edmiston obviously intends. Only toward the end of the play does Brown as Dora give a serious reading of the material --- when she fears the swan is gone --- and only then does the play hit its emotional mark.
Janie E. Howland's elongated cavern of a cabin gives the swan lots ofd elbow room --- and he needs it, happily perching atop the fridge. J. Hagenbuckle's gothic sound effects and Karen Perlow's stormy lighting add mightily to the fantastical feel of the fairy tale --- and Gail Astrid Buckley's stray feathers are the perfect touch.