Greek myth goes modern

Production: Rep Stage is presenting a one-act play this month updating the story of Leda and the swan.

Howard Live

February 07, 2002|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An ancient Greek myth tells us that Zeus, king of the gods, assumed the form of a swan and seduced Leda, wife of the king of Sparta.

There appears to be no lesson for us here, except maybe "Watch out for swans." But for centuries, the Greek myths have influenced painters and poets (not to mention psychologists). Veronese, Correggio, Michelangelo and dozens of other artists produced paintings of Leda and the swan. Yeats wrote a poem that vividly describes the seduction and another, called Among Schoolchildren, that ruminates about it.

In modern America, the myth has inspired The Swan, a one-act play by Elizabeth Egloff that is the current production at Rep Stage. The play depicts a strange love triangle - woman, man, swan - which the author chooses to present as broad comedy punctuated by stabs of eerie drama. The woman, Dora, is a loser, attracted to men but unable to hold on to them. She lives alone, receiving frequent visits by her married boyfriend, Kevin. The dialogue between them is banal.

The action begins with a swan crashing into Dora's picture window as she sleeps. In the morning, she finds it unconscious and brings it inside. To Dora and Kevin, the swan appears more manlike than swanlike. Dora finds herself attracted to it, arousing resentment and jealousy in Kevin. When she begins to identify with the swan, the situation gets out of hand, leading to a dramatic final scene.

Director Kasi Campbell has said that the show will leave the audience reflecting on its meaning and examining the details for symbolism. And there are symbols in abundance:

Swans are white. Dora is a nurse and wears a white uniform and hose. When not in uniform she appears in a white slip. Kevin is a milkman. Milk is white, and it figures prominently in the action. On the job, Kevin wears a white coat.

Firearms as sex symbols. Kevin has a pistol and fires it once; Dora has a rifle and brandishes it frequently. She's also pretty free with an ax, which represents the threat of castration.

Dora's picture window shows the cracks left by the swan's impact. Later, the lighting suggests cracks in her floor as well, and later still cracks in the walls. The implication seems to be that Dora's human persona is fracturing.

Dora and Kevin are brought vividly to life by Sherri L. Edelen and Jack E. Vernon. Christopher Lane is spellbinding as the swan. In a physically demanding performance, Lane's menacing sounds and abrupt, sometimes violent, movements have an eerie impact on the viewer.

Campbell provides her usual sure-handed direction. Scenic designer Tony Cisek has created a shabby and tasteless living room, thoroughly appropriate to Dora. Lighting (Dan Covey), costumes (Mary Ann Powell) and sound (Brian Keating) are all excellent.

As Campbell said, The Swan gives the audience many questions. Why did the author blend mythological, psychological and mystical elements in terms of broad comedy? Why did she people such a haunting situation with dull, conventional characters? The Swan is not for the literal-minded, but it offers plenty of material for those who like to analyze and speculate.

Rep Stage at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, presents "The Swan" through Feb. 24. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 23. Information and reservations: 410-772-4900.

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