Feathers will fly this weekend, as the Collective Face brings Elizabeth Egloff’s tensile drama The Swan to town. It’s the group’s second staged reading – not a full production, with props, costumes and all that pesky stuff – and it’s taking place on the Savannah Children’s Theatre stage.
Ah, but The Swan is anything but a children’s play. A thread of sexual tension runs through this story of Dora Hand, a lonely, divorced hospital nurse who lives alone at the edge of a Nebraska prairie. She’s having a dead–end affair with Kevin, her (married) milkman.
Late one night, as she’s asleep in her living room chair, an enormous trumpeter swan crashes into Dora’s picture window, disoriented along its annual migration route. Frightened at first, she eventually helps the injured bird – who has appeared in the form of a naked, feathered man – and begins to feed it. And teach it. And love it.
The Swan debuted at New York’s Public Theater in 1993 and won the Kesselring Prize for Best New Play. The New York Times called it “An absorbing 100–minute riff,” while Newsday said it was “A bewitching bedtime story for grown–ups,” presenting Egloff its Oppenheimer Award for Best New York City Debut By An American Playwright.
For the Collective Face production, Stephanie Candelaria, a SCAD senior studying digital media and performing arts, plays Dora.
The psychological undercurrents of The Swan have got her thinking. What does it all mean?
“Dora’s lost in this relationship that she’s got going on,” Candelaria explains. “She’s the other woman – she’s not legally bound to this man that she’s in love with. She’s tossed back and forth. He leaves to go to his house. She’s kind of in limbo, I feel.
“And this whole relationship with the swan, I feel, is her filling that void, creating the stability in a relationship that she wishes she had.”
In the story, Dora calls the swan Bill. At first, he only squawks, honks and barks, but once he learns to speak English, Bill – a sort of charmingly naive child–man – engages his lonely savior in decidedly manly terms.
Dora, offers Candelaria, “is definitely a little off her rocker. Maybe she’s been alone in her house a little too long, and dealing at work with a few crazy patients. I feel like this is also her escape.
“There’s a scene where she dresses him in nice attire and even says ‘It would be nice if we could go out to dinner.’ Just creating this whole perfect, nice relationship.”
None of this sits well with Kevin, who thinks “the bird” (he refuses to use even its proper scientific name) is horning in on his perfect little world with Dora.
“After seeing how much Dora cares for the swan,” says Candelaria, “and how she is so willing to heal him and let him grow, and create this nest in their house, Kevin resents her for it.
“He even calls her out and says ‘You don’t love me.’ He says that a lot during the play: ‘If you cared about me, you wouldn’t do this.’
“So at the very end, when it’s shotguns, and time to fight the fight, it’s intense. Because Kevin does feel threatened. The swan is offering her the friendship that he wishes he could.”
As The Swan unfolds, these three characters dodge and parry, each reacting to one another in oddly different ways.
There are so many interpretations of the plot: It might be about insanity, or the politics of jealousy, or about nature vs. nurture.
Then again, it might just be a story about a bird.
“Is this bird stranded? Is it lost?“ asks Candelaria. ”It’s trying to get back to its family. It’s trying to finish its route.
“The bird just crashed in; it’s sick, it needs help, but Dora just wants the bird to stay and be in a relationship that she wishes she had.”
The Swan (staged reading)
Where: Savannah Children’s Theatre, 2160 E. Victory Drive
When: At 8 p.m. Aug. 20 and 21