This world premiere from The Civilians offers a small audience an intimate, immersive experience, recreating the salons of Paul Swan, a bisexual/gay, multi-disciplinary artist. More…
While Swan never achieved the recognition he desired as a modern Renaissance man (painter, sculptor, poet, dancer, etc.), he achieved a different kind of fame, largely through weekly salons. Those held in his studio atop Carnegie Hall, every Saturday from the 1930’s through the 60’s. As the years progressed (and as Swan added layers of pancake make-up and black shoe polish), the tragic, the camp, and the sublime intertwined to create his greatest artwork–himself. Playwright Claire Kiechel has a personal stake in Paul Swan; he is her great-great uncle.
And in "Paul Swan is Dead and Gone," she resurrects her ancestor’s salon and re-imagines it as an electrically charged theatrical space where the forces of life, death, and art do battle.
"Johanson, Cespedes, and Scott all have some fine moments in the show. However, this is really Tony Torn's triumph. His recent turn as a Trump-like figure in Jean-Claude Van Italie's 'The Fat Lady Sings' (at La Mama) was impressive, but here he pulls out all the stops. He takes Paul Swan beyond the realms of camp and pathos. He endows him with a self-awareness that, if it ever before existed, has long been buried under decades' worth of caked-on makeup and pretentiousness." Full Review
“This play does nothing badly unintentionally...Performances are strong throughout...Claire Kiechel has taken her uncle’s work—his correspondence, his writing, Warhol’s films—and used that to tell a more universal story, that of finding one’s place in the world and fighting to be heard, to be remembered. It’s a beautiful evening of theatre that should not be missed.” Full Review
"Rarely is that experience as magical as The Civilians' mostly verbatim theatrical approach to the lesser-known camp goddess Paul Swan...Camp is having a resurgence...Done properly, with a deep mystery of beautiful tragedy, it is the work of Paul Swan, a man played in Kiechel’s play by a perfectly gentle Tony Torn...While there is much to be confused about, director Steve Cosson makes the most impact in the latter half of 'Paul Swan is Dead and Gone.'" Full Review
"Invites us into Swan’s salon for a scintillating evening of dance, poetry and visual art. It’s appropriately staged...Torn’s performance is touching and beautiful. In less capable hands, Swan’s fey movements and pompous pronouncements could come across as silly, even ridiculous...The show is a quiet sort of musical...Funny as hell, and queer as Fire Island in July...Yet it’s not a sheer camp extravaganza. The play deals seriously with aging, loss and loneliness.” Full Review
"Across a quick 75 minutes, this performance piece proves to be not only sexually fluid, but also camp-tolerant and mortality-curious. Every family has its share of unusual relatives, but playwright Claire Kiechel struck gold with Swan, who is her great grand-uncle. Fortunately, she has no interest in creating a straightforward biography...Both actors amuse throughout with satirically flourished poetry and dance routines. And Johanson charms while showing off a fine singing voice." Full Review
"Kiechel’s meandering script includes monologues and dramatic vignettes that incorporate fragments of Swan’s writing, music, dance, and stylized movement. In the course of 80 minutes, four good actors portray a variety of figures...No matter how painful to view, it’s impossible to look away from the accelerating emotion of Torn’s intriguing performance and the fragments of the past dancing in the mind’s eye of the old artist." Full Review
"As the star gives us the best show he can, the intimacy is also helped by Steve Cosson’s simple staging. The choreography is basic, at times even a little amateurish...The only reason 'Paul Swan is Dead and Gone' works at all, of course, is Tony Torn...Torn had my audience firmly in the palm of his hand and carries Claire Kiechel’s script through an occasional lapse into the saccharine. That lapse mainly comes at the end, and that’s where the show loses a bit of its edge." Full Review
“In her charmingly eccentric but frustratingly slack play, Claire Kiechel summons her real-life great-granduncle, Paul Swan...Reality and memory are slippery for the aging diva. Likewise, the play, directed by Steve Cosson for the Civilians, never gets a sure grip on what it’s trying to do—although Johanson and Avi A. Amon’s music for various pieces of Swan’s writings results in some lovely Michael Friedman-esque songs.” Full Review
“Kiechel’s script tries to move us from seeing Swan as an absurdity to considering him a great man...But the play doesn’t quite make the intended turn...Torn excels at seeming defenseless...Were the whole production played at this nerve-quivering pitch, the wryness might have resolved into something deeper. Instead...Cosson has the other actors perform with vaudevillian flair, which keeps the show’s affect flat and shiny just when it needs to let us past the surface." Full Review
“It’s certainly not a conventional drama, any more than the real Paul Swan was a conventional artist...And though the fearless actor Torn doesn’t stint on the theatrics, his incarnation of Swan never quite comes to life...Though the monologues Kiechel has given him feel believable enough, there is a weird superstructure around them, as if to assert the play’s avant-garde bona fides. In a work about fustiness, such distancing effects seem like holding one’s nose.” Full Review
“A fairly chaotic affair, an evening of alarms and excursions that doesn't do nearly enough to get inside the head of this professional eccentric. The script tries, rather uncertainly, to play him for laughs, aiming for camp hilarity but lacking the grasp of comic detail that would make Swan amusing, compelling, pitiable, or all three...Torn, a gifted character actor, certainly throws himself into the persona of Swan...As written, however, he is an attitude rather than a character." Full Review
“An offbeat new bio-drama...Written and performed in an unconventional manner...Neither the writing nor the performances fulfill the work’s promise...It is obvious that the playwright aspires to present a sympathetic portrait of an aging artist...Unfortunately, Kiechel’s terribly sketchy play fails to make a case for this presumably gifted...tiresome old poseur...This ambitious biographical study does not nearly measure up to the exotic individual it tries to represent.” Full Review
See it if you like your camp served up with a healthy dose of avant garde pretentions. You like great acting. You like shows in unusual spaces.
Don't see it if if you want pure camp or a show with a lot of pathos. It is smart and often very funny but it doesn't quite add up to much.
See it if You want to be dazzled. Paul Swan is Dead and Gone hurtles you back into the last century & forces you to confront the possibilities of camp
Don't see it if You are wedded to realism.
See it if So entertaining. Performances are all excellent, especially Mr. Torn and Mr. Johanson. Beautiful writing, witty/wise and heartbreaking.
Don't see it if You feel uncomfortable watching theater or performers in an intimate setting.
See it if you want something pretty radical and unique. Super cool ideas and performances. It’ll stay on your mind and give you plenty to talk about.
Don't see it if You want conventional, easy, passive theater.
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