99 Ways to Fuck a Swan

99 Ways to Fuck a Swan is a funny and disturbing tale about a man who pulls at an erotic thread that leads him to discover what exists at the intersection of taboo sexuality and profound mental illness. The script is fresh and interesting, the story elaborate and compelling, and the themes are modern and smart.

The play takes place in four different settings: the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan; Michelangelo’s Rome (as he creates the renowned painting of the mythical trysts); a Victorian British aristocrat’s home containing said painting; and modern day New York, where the play’s protagonist Dave (Ryan Higgins) is writing a paper on the painting, partly in an attempt to get the attention of his writing teacher Fiona (Jonelle Jordan). The story springs with organic urgency from one plot-line to the next, as actors and set alike follow suit, maintaining an impressively coherent narrative.

The acting is spectacular. This cast is stylistically diverse, but very well in tune with itself. Ryan Higgins does a wonderful job presenting woefully creepy Dave as a likeable human being–important, as humanizing ‘creepy’ traits is central to this play’s story. His acting is highly stylized, but raw neurosis and peculiarly contemporary anxiety make his character gorgeously human. The whole cast is wonderful, but the other truly noteworthy performances came from Jose Abaoag whose enormous energy in many scenes propelled the story forward, and Jonelle Jordan, whose monologue as the put-upon Fiona is a gripping coalescence of several important themes.

Directorially, I found this play a little challenging. The aesthetic has its appreciable elements–the set and costumes are all done in white, utilizing paper where possible, an aspect that lends itself well to the fact of the play being something of an ars poetica, as well as to the theme of purity. And certainly, the space on stage was used such that scene transitions were simple, elegant, and smart. But a lot of the progression of the play involves ripping large sheets of paper and throwing them to the floor, and this reviewer happens to enjoy a clean, controlled set. There is nothing creatively wrong with the way the play was directed, it is a smooth and elegant ride from beginning to end.

Costumes (by Ali Rose Panzarella) are done really cleverly. The plotlines nestle into one another in a hierarchy of realness, where the closest to reality is Dave’s story, and the farthest from reality is the portrayal of the Myth itself. Costumes for the myth, which features Leda (Leah Salcido Pfenning) and Tyndareus (Martyn G. Krouse) are made of paper and are profoundly stylistic. The costumes in Italy and England are still all in white, but increasingly life-like, and Dave himself is dressed in perfectly ordinary street clothes. These transitions lend themselves well to creating organic, unspoken reminders as to what is and isn’t at stake in the play.

All in all, this play goes highly recommended. It is an experience not soon forgotten, as it discusses high-stakes ideas that are rarely addressed in the theaters.

99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, directed by Ali el-Gasseir, will run from September 25 till October 12 at 12th Ave Arts (1620 12th Ave, Seattle). For tickets, please visit http://washingtonensemble.org/tickets/

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