Reviewed by Richard Scaffidi of BackStage West
PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE
By Ferenc Molnar
Often lyrical, often satirical, The Swan is simultaneously a romantic fable and a sociopolitical essay. Written early in the century by Hungary’s Ferenc Molnar (English text by Benjamin Glazer), the play proves to be a wonderful theatrical rediscovery, one brought smartly to life by director Howard Shangraw and numerous other splendid artists at Pacific Resident Theatre.
Molnar, Shangraw, and co. first draw us cheerfully into a seemingly fairy tale plot in which the faded Princess Beatrice is determined to restore her family’s bygone glory by seeing to it that her beautiful daughter Alexandra wins the heart of Europe’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Albert. Her plan is to make Albert jealous of a phony rival, namely the brilliant but low-born resident tutor. But the plan backfires when the upstart tutor commences to actually (and effectively) woo Alexandra for himself..
Such an irresistible story brims with both comedic and romantic possibilities, and this texture-rich PRT company fulfills them all. For instance, sleek Shiva Rose is truly alluring as Alexandra, even when the character is at her haughtiest. She fully justifies the audacious risks taken by the love-smitten tutor, a role played by Alexander Enberg with alternating fire and dignity. Completing the amorous triangle is Robert Lee Jacobs as the outwardly dashing but inwardly faltering (and sometimes adorably dim) Prince Albert. Jacobs deftly invokes vivid character comedy that is carried to even more tickling heights by the ever-brilliant Marilyn Fox as conniving Princess Beatrice, and by Susan Dexter as her sweet, ditzy sister..
Add in the choice work of several other PRT players and, top to bottom, The Swan serves up as colorful and delightful a cast as you’ll find on any stage in town. Notable among these are William Lithgow as the castle’s nearly perfect chief servant; Chris McCabe and Ron E. Dickinson as the prince’s absurdly formidable aides; Justin Cowden and Neal McGowan as the tutor’s mischievous young students; Diane Hurley as Prince Albert’s uproariously imperious mother, and Orson Bean, marvelously wry as the benign and wise Father Hyacinth..
Yet there is even more to enjoy about The Swan than all these amusing characters and the laughter they evoke. And we’re not referring to the flair of Audrey Eisner’s costuming, the ingenuity of Victoria Profitt’s set design, or the magic of Keith Endo’s lighting. Those are terrific, too-but what truly makes The Swan remarkable is that it is charming in order to be disarming. You see, at its true core, Molnar’s play is a thoughtful, even melancholy, depiction of society grappling to sort out its class distinctions in the first age of world civilization not defined or dominated by monarchy..
That added thematic perspective adds political bite and cultural insight to this 80-year-old gem. After all, the play is largely about royalty desperately scuffling for position, and how its younger generation is increasingly influenced by and competing with commoners. The tutor may or may not win the princess this time around but, in mind and body both, he is the one best equipped to rule the future. Heady stuff for a fairy tale..
“The Swan,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursdays–Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 5. $20 to $22. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.
BackStage West Review by Richard Scaffidi