Monday, September 17, 2018

Swan Song (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A man comes to the park in a small Irish port.  He's there to see the swans, especially Agnes--the one who lost her mate.  The man, named Occi (Andre de Vanny) apologizes to Agnes for being tardy.  But he wasn't in trouble "not this time."  Soon he is introducing us to his friend the swan.  In the process, and eventually with profound depth, he introduces himself as well.

A strong lad is Occi.  Well, he's needed to be.  He and his Mum have only had each other pretty much their whole lives.  It emerges she had him out of wedlock.  In this community, the pair of them might as well have worn Red Letters A on their chests.

Or a yellow star on their clothes.

Swan Song by Connor McDermottroe is a one person show, a challenging form that flies or sinks very much on the interest and passion one performer can generate and inspire for an hour or more.  Here we have a hard time tearing our eyes away.  De Vanny comes across as emotionally naked, open to a degree that warms our hearts.  As we learn more, however, the hint rises and becomes vividly clear--he must have paid a fearful price for achieving this.  For here is a story about compassion, about the lack of it which cannot help but make a hard world a thousand times worse than it must be.  Oh compassion exists alright.  If it did not, Occi would likely be rocking to himself, eyes staring at nothing, his bloodstream infused with drugs for decade after decade until he rotted away.

But there wasn't enough.  There could have been.

Yeah, the fellow children who hurt his brain didn't mean to really damage Occi.  It was an accident.  He looks back on that now with forgiveness--a forgiveness he cannot bring himself to offer some (like the bishop and the priest, for how they treated him and his Mum all their lives).  Occi can like people.  He can be a good friend.  But he's also been poisoned by humiliation, by ruthless and casual lack of concern.  If only one or two of his neighbors had been just a little kind.  If only they hadn't called him that name behind his back and everywhere else, creating a trigger for ever-swelling rage.  If only...

The saddest two words in English, those.  If only...

Such is the experience of this man's life, unfolding before us with yes lots of charm and plenty of humor, his remarkably modest hopes coupled with plenty of really wonderful virtues.  Despite his problems, this performance (helped no doubt by director Greg Carroll) allows us to see in someone deeply troubled, haunted by past crimes, what the very best theatre often does show us.  Ourselves.  The sad lonely boy.  The shunned mother at her wit's end turning to drink.  The sad young woman who finds in Occi a kindred spirit.  The hard-working, hard drinking pal who becomes first Occi's best friend then his victim.  Mostly Occi himself.   Us.  Me.  You.

Swan Song plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm; 2:00pm on Sundays; and 8:00pm on Mondays through October 7, 2018. at the Skylight Theatreat 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027. 

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