Knife’s Edge of Infinite Possibility: Boston New Works Festival and “SWAN”

Presented by Moonbox Productions as part of the Boston New Works Festival 2023
SWAN is written by Sophie Kim
Directed by Kai Chao

June 22 – June 25, 2023
The Boston Center For The Arts
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
527 Tremont Street
Boston, MA

2 hours with 1 intermission

Review by Kitty Drexel

UPDATE: A previous edit of this review had misspelled  Vivian Liu-Somers’ name. It has been corrected.

BOSTON, Mass. — It is never too late to become who you are. This grammatically incorrect* but philosophically accurate statement rings true for the protagonists of SWAN currently playing as part of Moonbox’s second annual Boston New Works Festival at the BCA. Age, gender, dayjob, etc. should be incidental factors in one’s ongoing search for identity. 

SWAN explores the intersection of gender identity and sacrifice through its two protagonists: Richard (Jupiter Le) and Aiden (Alyse Clinton). Richard is a Korean American college student who must placate the family matriarch (Christina R Chan) to get his education. Aiden is white tradwife YouTube star with a dark secret. They are haunted by Swan (Wesley Han), a fabulous drag queen who tears through their paltry excuses like tissue paper and refuses to accept their lies: they are not happy who and how they are. 

Richard meets Brad (Cinder Kuss), Aiden’s commitment-phobic boyfriend on Grindr. Through Brad, Richard meets Aiden. Aiden and Richard learn they have a lot more than Brad in common. Separately, Aiden and Richard mitigate sacrifices to become who they fear to be. Together, they learn there are worse things in fantastical and horrific depths of the mind than the monsters we keep hidden. 

Vivian Liu-Somers, Jenine Florence Jacinto, Asa Graham-Lowengard, and Noa Graham round out the cast. SWAN is loosely based on composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The cast does not dance although some thoughtful choreography with fans and Jello molds is incorporated. 

If you had to give up everything you knew, everyone you loved, to be something you didn’t understand…would you? SWAN is a fantastical, darkly comedic retelling of Swan Lake that follows Richard, a Korean American college student, and Aiden, a moderately YouTube-famous white tradwife. Their dreams are haunted by a mysterious voice called Swan, who invents dreamscapes of the past and future.

Aiden attempts to fight off these visions, while Richard is drawn deeper into Swan’s narrative. Both are forced to confront their fears of the future, the queerness they’ve buried, and their need to be who they truly are, even if that means becoming monstrous.

SWAN is a workshop production. It deserves to exist as it is for now while it’s still in development, rough edges and all. 

And, it does have rough edges. SWAN feels a little long because its converging stories don’t quite mesh. The audience is given a faux ending before the play actually ends: Aiden’s storyline has a satisfying denouement with sandcastles before Richard’s closes the show incorporating a grand finale with choreography and a puff of white feathers. 

Richard still had some hell to give, but the audience was wondering if the play was over. It wasn’t. It’s okay to mess with the audience but not in ways that could have them mentally packing up to leave before it’s time. 

Most importantly, SWAN has at its core a humanity and generosity of spirit that comes from Kim’s telling of the queer community’s observably true stories. Perhaps the cast isn’t leaning into the script’s uncanny valley-ness and campier aspects as hard as it could. (The Jello has hotdogs. The Doctor is in a ballgown. Embrace the weird!) Perhaps the cast needs to speak up so the back rows can hear them. SWAN still communicates its messages of self-ownership, independence, and trans pride clearly.

Nevertheless, SWAN has the potential to be a great show. It’s okay that it isn’t perfect now. Perfect isn’t better than progress. Progress is the point of a new works festival.    

Moonbox, please include pronouns in all of your playbill bios. There are a lot of humans involved in this festival. They all deserve identity recognition. 

Playwright Sophie Kim writes in their program Note, “The project of being queer sometimes feels like standing on a knife’s edge: there is infinite possibility, and there are limits. And somehow, you’re supposed to manage both.” Ain’t that the truth?

It’s a good analogy for new, living theatre works. There are infinite possibilities for a playwright willing to put pen to paper or, rather, fingers to keyboard. They can create new worlds or reveal this one when they write them down.

Limits come from finding resources to actualize their new work: actors, crew, producers, location, funding, etc. Workshops are fundamental to the creative process. This production of SWAN is a workshop. It needs eyes on actors and butts in seats. 

If the COVID lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we must support the theatre we wish to see in the world (and star in) with cold, hard cash. Moonbox is creating opportunities for the Boston theatre community – A community that has been clamoring for a new works/fringe festival for years. 

I attended a meeting of the Boston community on behalf of StageSource on June 14 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre that addressed this very topic. Ostensibly, Moonbox wasn’t represented because they were busy doing the work. 

Here it is, a fringe festival. Time to put our money where our mouth is, Boston. Ask to get involved; divvy up resources to share; write grants together; buy tickets. Should Moonbox want the support, it is feasible that multiple companies could sponsor this same festival.

An audience of theatre practitioners is crucial to development. Theatre doesn’t get a new Paula Vogel or David Henry Hwang without workshops and an audience to give feedback. Attend SWAN because it tells a queer story and because queer plays don’t just magically burgeon from turquoise sea foam like Aphrodite, tits akimbo, on the half shell. We need to be there or it doesn’t continue to happen. 

The Festival site has tickets for $25. Cough. Goldstar has them for less. Cough. Pay-What-You-Wish (as little or as much) tickets are available at the BCA box office door. Patrons can also call the box office for pay-what-you-wish pricing. 

The Boston New Works Festival continues through June 25 at the BCA. A full schedule is HERE.

*The truth doesn’t bother with consistent verb tenses.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation. Every cent earned goes towards the upkeep and continuation of the New England Theatre Geek.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Comments are closed.