The graceful swan is a favorite symbol in art. Camille Saint-Saëns’ fluid musical depiction is a frequent cello encore. Poet Robinson Jeffers, after confessing “I hate my verses, every line” for inadequately depicting nature, urged readers to “love the wild swan.”
Of course, real swans, when approached, aren’t all that pretty. They hiss and honk and can be downright territorial, even aggressive.
Playwright Elizabeth Egloff understands that duality—beautiful, yet difficult—and expresses it in her metaphor-filled play. A swan crashes into a plate-glass window somewhere in Nebraska, and the wounded bird is taken in by Dora, whose window was cracked. The swan miraculously takes human form—a distinctly handsome male form, naked as a baby—arousing the suspicions of Dora’s small-minded, quietly desperate boyfriend Kevin (a milkman from the Holy Cow Dairy with a wife on the side).
What develops is a play operating on several levels. In part, it’s a domestic farce about conflicted feelings and strange relationships. Dora (actress Dana Brooke) is smarting after several disastrous relationships with men; she’s soon fixated on the bird. Kevin, played by Peter Story (Kurt Johnson takes over the role on April 22) remains linked to his spouse even as he romances Dora, fretting about overheard remarks from customers regarding “the guy” at Dora’s place. The swan (Jason Kuykendall) is a migratory waterfowl, driven by instinct, trapped in a flightless body.
The play’s graceful side emerges as the swan slowly learns to speak, and the story takes on mythic aspects. The swan’s words are a choppy stream-of-consciousness but lyrical and packed with hot emotion and dense imagery. Kuykendall’s unusual performance evolves from his unclothed animal arrival (leaping around, funny as he pecks at pizza) into a kind of desperate, lonely, awkward eloquence. In this transition, Kuykendall uses his statuesque body (resembling that of a dancer) to physically illustrate his character’s gradually expanding “humanity,” augmented with a growing vocabulary of carefully phrased words.
Brooke develops Dora’s expanding devotion to the swan, which evolves from a nurse’s care to romance (shades of Leda), leading to an ending that’s best left undescribed here. Story deftly portrays an unimaginative man caught up in happenings he can’t quite understand.