`The Swan': Comedy on a different level

Theater: The one-act play, opening tomorrow, concerns a swan that becomes a man and its effect on a woman.

January 31, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Call this the season of the swan in Columbia -- there have been articles in recent months about an unlikely swan coupling, an untimely swan death and a unique brood of hybrid cygnets. Now, thanks to the professional theater company Rep Stage, The Swan is coming to the stage at Howard Community College's Theatre Outback.

What happens when a swan comes crashing into your life and gradually morphs into a man?

That's the launching point for the single-act, full-length play by Elizabeth Egloff, which opens tomorrow and runs through Feb. 24.

Like a real swan -- a rather aggressive creature despite its serene appearance -- the play is not exactly as it seems to be on the surface, says director Kasi Campbell.

"On one level, it's a comedy. On another, it's about the psyche," Campbell said.

She calls it a "surrealistic comedy" with elements of a fairy tale and a mythological touch. Its ending leaves the audience reflecting on the story and picking apart details to uncover the symbolism veiled beneath the comedic facade, Campbell said.

Three cast members

The show has just three cast members. Sherri L. Edelen of North Laurel plays Dora, a nurse living a fairly mundane existence. Her humdrum life takes on a new dimension when a swan, played by Christopher Lane, unexpectedly bursts into her home through the window.

What ensues is a series of transformations -- physically, as the swan gradually takes on increasingly human attributes, and emotionally, as Dora's feelings for the fetching fowl develop. At the same time, Dora is carrying on an affair with a married milkman, played by Jack Vernon. The play focuses on Dora's exploration of the two very different relationships, Campbell said.

Lane's swanliness is not achieved with an elaborate costume or snowy plumes. Instead, Lane takes on ornithological traits through physical movements and vocalization, Campbell explained.

As the story unfolds, Lane gradually displays increasingly human characteristics, while still retaining the mannerisms of a swan.

"It's fun to do a play that's not grounded in realism," Campbell said.

`Animal improvisations'

Campbell likens Lane's performance to what most young actors are subjected to in acting class. "You're always asked to do animal improvisations," she said. "This is carrying it to the extreme."

This is not Lane's first foray into the psyche of an animal -- he won a Helen Hayes award in 2000 for his supporting role as a horse in the play Equus at Olney Theatre Center.

As the director, Campbell had a notion about how a swan-man would act, but much of the depiction came from trial and error during rehearsals.

"I've allowed for a lot of improvisation and play time," she said. "By the time the audience sees it, it's all in place."

One challenge was for Lane to maintain avian behaviors while doing human activities. "We've had some interesting explorations into how a half-man, half-swan and a woman would communicate," Campbell said.

The cast also had some practical issues to ponder. "How does a swan sit at a table and play checkers and drink beer?" Campbell said, referring to one of the scenes in the play.

Heavy use of lights

In addition to the transforming of Lane's character, the set itself also "morphs" through heavy use of lights and special effects, she said.

Campbell selected the play for the Rep Stage lineup about a year ago, well before the swan stories hatched from Lake Elkhorn made headlines last spring and summer. She says she was drawn to the play for several reasons.

"We hadn't done a female playwright for a while," she said. And the fantasy element of the piece also appealed to her. "I needed a break from realism," she said. "It made me laugh when I read it. I also found it gripping. I thought the audience would be tickled with it."

Campbell, of Ellicott City, had her own encounter with a graceful-looking fowl at Centennial Lake years ago with her young daughter. "I was attacked by one of those swans. It chased us all the way to the car," she said.

"The Swan" will be performed at Howard Community College's Theatre Outback, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, beginning tomorrow through Feb. 24. A post-show discussion will be held after the performance Feb. 8. Tickets and information: 410-772- 4900.

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