Theater (and Dance and Music and Film and Painting) at SWAN Day 2015

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Unfortunately, the No Name Players-organized Swan Day Pittsburgh only runs one night a year.  But if the talent on display this past Saturday at the Twentieth Century Club is any indication, this is an event worth marking each year’s calendar for.

Swan Day 2015 was far from a typical night at the theater – but theater factored in heavily.  There were also several musical acts, live painting, film and dance, all by Pittsburgh-based female artists who were working with the following prompt: “Everyone has an untold story hidden behind closed doors.  Try to understand that people are not always what they first seem.”

One of the standouts – in an evening with few weak spots – was a short film by Kahmeela Adams (left untitled in the playbill) in which the artist films herself giving advice to her pre-high school self (back in the early 90s).  It is nostalgic, endearing and nearly tragic at moments.  And though it utilizes the editing style of a YouTube confessional, it never loses grasp of its audience or its focus.

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The three plays of the night were surprisingly complete works given that they ran at about ten minutes each.  The first piece, Lady A. by Angela Citrola, finds a woman (played by Siovhan Christensen, pictured above), nearly forty, in a sterile, unenviable relationship with an emotionally unengaged investment banker (David Bielewicz, also pictured above).  She is an aspiring writer with little to show for it other than an ungrateful husband and a laptop full of unpublished articles on love and loss.  What begins as a relatively light piece – our protagonist bemoans her lackluster love life with a man who’s “slightly smaller than average” – becomes more desperate with time.  There are dire admissions and aimless arguments, and at the end of the piece the husband attempts to placate his wife with the always-less-than-reassuring: “everything is going to be okay.”  “I hope so,” she replies, her tone revealing longing more than optimism.

Social by Gayle Pazerski was the second play of the night, and like a few other Swan Day pieces, it had social media as its thematic focus.  This makes sense, given the aforementioned prompt – there’s always more to a person than his or her social media presence, which, as Social reminds us, can be misleading to the point of deceitfulness.  The play places a young woman in an unpassionate romance (Laura Barletta) with a social media expert (Jena Oberg) whose aim it is to improve the online appearance of her clients.  Playwright Pazerski takes what could be a suffocating setup and lets it breathe, allowing the play to become as much about character revelation as it is about social (media) critique.

The third play of the evening was Morning, Mourning by Elizabeth L. Ruelas, the most overtly comedic of the three.  In it, a brother-sister pair grieve the loss of an old acquaintance – former roommate to the brother (Everett Lowe), former five-day boyfriend to the sister (Kaylyn Farneth).  The female half of the two is a scantily-clad day-drinker, aloof and unrepentant next to her tall, stoic older brother.  The banter between the two is quick and sharp – and mostly funny and fleeting.  But even Morning, Mourning accomplishes some emotional gravity by the end of its ten minute slot.

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With over fifteen separates acts, it would be impossible to do Swan Day Pittsburgh the critical justice it deserves by mentioning each individual contribution.  Toward the end of the show, there was a dance piece entitled A World Through a Fun House Mirror set to the lively, disjointed music of Ratatat.  Members of Texture Contemporary Ballet put on the piece, which was wild and playfully aggressive, incorporating traditional dance elements into an unapologetically contemporary piece.  It was strange and it took chances and even though so much had gone on before it, we were all wide awake for its entirety – and in that way, it unintentionally encapsulated the spirit and energy of Swan Day Pittsburgh 2015.