Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Jungle Theater The Swan

Also see Elizabeth's review of Sussanah

Nathan Keepers
To be generous, The Swan, which opens the 2007 Jungle Theater season, is a dud. The script is at turns pretentious, shallow, confusing and, worst of all, deathly dull. The three actors work gamely with the material, but are eventually undone by characters that do little to engage the audience.

Whatever Elizabeth Egloff wrote later in her career, The Swan —written in 1989 around the time she graduated from Yale —is an absolute mess: a collection of ideas that never come together into anything nearly as mythic as the playwright pretends they are.

In a nutshell. Lonely Nebraska nurse Dora Hand wakes up one night when a swan crashes into her front window. She takes the swan in, and it transforms into a man. This upsets the already tenacious relationship she has with Kevin, the milkman and her adulterous boyfriend.

By the end of the show, the story get pretty chaotic. But if you've read any of the classics, you can guess who she ends up with —and in what form. The story starts well, but fizzles out long before the end, leaving an increasingly chaotic and incoherent story in its wake.

Like the script, Bain Boehlke's staging never focuses on any one of the stories or styles, creating a hodgepodge that never rewards the audience with any kind of understanding or closure or even pleasure at a deftly presented piece of theater. Like the script, it all feels artificial.

Splitting the action over two acts doesn't help (the show was originally presented as a one-act play). If The Swan is going to work, it needs to immerse the audience in Dora's other world. Giving them 15 minutes to chat about the cold weather and "just what the heck are we watching?" in the lobby outside only breaks whatever spell was crafted in the show's first half.

And a few minutes into act two, I realized that I just didn't care about Dora. Dream-world or not, I need a reason to care. But you never get a sense of the oppression that makes up her life —being trapped in a job, a town, a house that is packed with the memories of the men who left her.

The actors try gamely throughout to carry the action, but Chris Carlson (Kevin) and Jennifer Blagen (Dora) eventually get dragged down by the script. In the end, Blagen does a fine job with a character who, as I noted before, I completely lost interest in long before the final blackout. Nathan Keepers brings remarkable agility and, yes, a bird-like quality to Bill, the transformed swan.

But toss in odd inconsistencies (why does a herbivore swan develop a taste for meat?; how does he keep getting outside when the others can only use the front door comfortably?; and why would someone who is seemingly on the lam at the end of the play offer to call the police? (Except, of course, to get him out of the picture during a vital final scene?); and a taste for poetic dialogue that maybe makes sense coming from the mystical swan, but sounds downright silly from the far more grounded Dora, and you have a play that goes from interesting and funny, to mildly irritating, to absolutely intolerable in a few short minutes.

The Swan runs through March 11 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. For information or tickets, call 612-822-7063 or visit

Photo: Michal Daniel

- Ed Huyck

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