Caitlin and the Swan
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
April 18, 2009
Occasionally on a night out at the theater, a bit of time is spent trying to figure out where the play in question is going, how long it will take before the true meaning of what you've been watching is spelled out explicitly, if at all. In Dorothy Fortenberry's Caitlin and the Swan, now in its premiere run at Under St. Marks, no such wait is necessary: in the very first scene, following some innocuous conversation with two of her girlfriends, a woman goes offstage and is heard having sex with a pig.
If that, in and of itself, is enough to put you off, you will miss an interesting and entertaining night of theater. By treating bestiality matter-of-factly as merely one in a menagerie of types of sexual desire, Fortenberry makes a progressive statement by not overstating it. The kinky becomes comic, if not mundane.
The story of the play follows Caitlin, after her friend Rachel confesses her affair with the pig, on a journey of sexual fulfillment. Caitlin's boyfriend Doug is the type to openly admit that he's going into the other room to masturbate to Internet porn when she isn't in the mood. It isn't until Caitlin is tutoring cynical, precocious teenager Bastian for his SATs that she notices and becomes erotically obsessed with a swan that lives in Bastian's backyard.
Although Fortenberry took her inspiration from the tale of Leda and the Swan, Caitlin's swan is a more modern one: if it is Zeus or some other god in disguise, this swan is a lot less obvious about its motivations. Then again, it could just be a swan. Caitlin's desire for the swan threatens her relationship with her friends and boyfriend, until she figures out exactly what it is she wants from it. The ultimate resolution is quite surprising.
Fortenberry's script is funny, literate, and insightful, and Joshua Conkel's direction is crisp, with a couple of surreal, dreamlike dance sequences (choreographed by Croft Vaughn) featuring the ladies and the animals they love (both very well played by Elliott T. Reiland; even though each animal is clearly played by a male dancer, Reiland still manages to suggest each strongly enough that belief is easily suspended). As Caitlin, Marguerite French gives a very engaging performance, and even though Caitlin's final solution to her sexual problem is as brutal as some of the implications of the phrase "final solution," French never loses the audience, making her performance even more impressive.
The supporting cast is strong as well. Shetal Shah does an excellent job playing Priya, the classic "best friend who's always there when the heroine needs to chat" role, who as a mere lesbian is the most sexually conventional person in the show. Teresa Stephenson's performance as Rachel manages to get past the "girl who had sex with a pig" obstacle with warmth and a certain sadness; her motivation for taking up with the pig seems to stem from a desperate wonder if she'll ever meet a nice guy.
The men are a little more two-dimensionally drawn, but performed well by Brian Robert Burns as Caitlin's boyfriend Doug and Jake Aron as the SAT tutee Bastian. Doug does little except give Caitlin a hard time, but Burns manages to maintain audience sympathy. Bastian has a little more to do—aside from being there to house the swan in his backyard, he also develops a tragic crush on Caitlin—and Aron plays a marvelously convincing dorky high school senior.
Caitlin and the Swan is a provocative and very well-crafted play, with all of the unconventional sexuality taking place offstage, through Adam Swiderski's highly amusing sound design, although Caitlin's vibrator makes an amusing appearance. For fans of the unconventional and unconventionally erotic, this is a must-see.