After interviewing Dorothy Fortenberry and Josh Conkel last week about Caitlin and the Swan I was ready for anything. A shocking comedy, a satirical poke at the female-friendship meme, a sly wink that came with a taboo nod, or perhaps even a mish-mash of Animal Farm, The Seagull, and Babe, Pig in the City. What I wasn’t ready for was characters presented as a smart group of women, who were more Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis than Miranda, Carry and Samantha. Gosh, can we all just admit that women have been gathering around bottles of wine and comparing things long before Sex and The City made bitching about men over cosmo/apple/flirt/tinis fashionable? Since the dawn of the cork screw chicks have been meeting to compare their lives against each others, their own lives against what they’d envision, and most of all … to compare how far each gal is willing to go in the quest to have the perfect relationship.
Flirting with a topic that easily could have been badly handled and gone the way of, say, a Rob Schnieder vehicle, Caitlin and the Swan takes a dash of realism, a hint of mystery, a pinch of fantasy and swirls it around the audience in short scenes and snappy dialogue. Even as some of the more left-of-center scenes play out, there’s a serious grip on the underlying message … all things being equal, what will women put up with, shy away from, and submit to all in the name of love?
Twenty-something Caitlin (Marguerite French) and her pals, Priya (Shetal Shah) and Rachel (Teresa Stephenson) seem to have their lines drawn in very different places in the sand … a fact that greets the audience early on as Rachel admits that the new man in her life is … a pig. Rachel’s complete acceptance of where her heart sought to take her (and yes … to Rachel this is Her True Bliss) is tempered by Caitin’s confusion, shock, and somewhat-real-but-somewhat-feigned disgust. It’s obvious that The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, for the minute Caitlin finds her own animal to admire, she’s fantasizing about being smothered in swan feathers faster than you can say Bjork’s Oscar Dress.
Brian Robert Burns as Doug, Caitlin’s confused (and sometimes whiny) boyfriend, is given just enough rope to hang himself with; after a night of his complaining I’d find myself more enthralled by the poetic beauty of a swan (elegantly portrayed by Elliott Reiland who doubles as Peter the Pig) too. And honestly, Caitlin’s not all gone, there’s another forbidden longing presented to her in the form of Bastian (Jake Aron) Caitlin’s young, earnest, sweet and unspoiled SAT student. There are moments when one desire can be taken as a metaphor for the other … only the line is blurred … does Bastian represent the other-ness of the swan, or does the swan represent the freedom of Bastian? Or maybe it’s a combination of the two? All I’ll say is that by the time this play ends … you know exactly why that chemistry is there.
I wasn’t ready to like this play as much as I did … I wasn’t ready to identify with three women who are a great deal younger than I am and, really, a whole lot more open minded, at least when it comes to their heart’s desire. But under Josh Conkel’s directing this story was almost lyrical at times: poetically still one moment and uproariously disquieting the next. He pushes the envelope just enough, while still making the atmosphere sufficiently comfortable so that you can sink down into these lives and understand that some choices just aren’t up to us. Regardless, they’re our choices to own.
Caitlin and the Swan runs till May 2 – Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8pm at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks, btwn 1st Ave & Ave A.
Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at www.smarttix.com