Review: ‘Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone,’ but First, He’s Dévastaté

If at this level you might be considering it could be useful to know extra about Swan’s marriage, neglect it. When the pinkish eminence in a jeweled miter lastly emerges from his gilded sarcophagus, 15 minutes into the 75-minute efficiency, he has little to say about his precise life. You must guess for your self whether or not Bellamy or Bollany or a person named Fred Bates — seen in a portrait — had been actually his lovers or are simply handy composites. (Bates was actual.)

That won’t matter in a play a few profitable artist, whose artwork will be trusted to talk for itself. But what we’re proven of Swan’s work doesn’t come near clearing that bar. In what he calls his “most famous dance,” “To a Hero Slain,” he appears merely wood and ridiculous, his maroon smock flapping, his comical sword flailing. (The evocative if cruel costumes are by An-lin Dauber.)

Because the play abjures psychology in favor of gesture, a lot as Swan apparently did in his choreopoems, nothing tells us whether or not he’s in on the joke. It thus turns into tough to know reply when he makes a idiot of himself or when he affords “beauté sécrets” — laxatives and olive oil baths — that may flip anybody into “an Adonis like me.” To snort or to not snort? Both appear merciless.

No surprise his Carnegie audiences sniggered.

But if Mr. Torn’s efficiency is supposed to discomfit us in the identical manner Swan’s performances discomfited them, I’m undecided the equivalence is a justification. After all, Swan may do no higher. Surely Mr. Torn, a stalwart of the experimental theater, may — if the director, Steve Cosson, wished him to. I doubt he does; not bettering issues is a trademark of the Civilians, which frequently makes use of verbatim interviews as the premise for its performs.

Instead, “Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone” tries to have it each methods. It enjoys making enjoyable of Swan; Sontag, watching him carry out “To a Hero Slain,” says that camp is sweet solely when it’s terrible, and “I don’t know if this is awful enough.”

At the identical time, it makes use of Swan to specific the intense anxiousness of being left behind, as an artist, as a human. That theme, at the least, is touching: If we stay lengthy sufficient, we’re all camp.

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