THEATRE / A flightless bird

Elizabeth Egloff's The Swan at the Traverse is a desperate plea for romantic love from the snow-covered wastes of modern Nebraska. Egloff couches her message in the idiom of the contemporary adult fairy-tale, a device which in this instance creaks more and more loudly as the play's activity increases.

In the middle of a stormy night, a woman sleeping alone is awoken by strange noises to discover that a swan has flown into her front window. She takes the wounded bird inside to nurse it back to health, only to see the swan metamorphose itself into a naked man. The arrival of the woman's married milkman lover completes the triangular cast. Grimm meets Rix at this point, as Dora (Amelda Brown) exclaims to Kevin (Garry Cooper) 'This is not what you think it is]' However, it is definitely the spirit of Grimm that wins through in these lightly handled opening scenes. Kevin instantly accepts the naked man as a swan. Only later do his doubts emerge, as Dora grows more attached to the swan/man, even giving him a name, Bill.

It is possible that Egloff doesn't intend the play to add up completely, for her story is, after all, 'poetic' and too tight a resolution of the play's premises would perhaps limit its resonance. Perhaps. It could also be argued that she simply sets herself narrative problems which she never quite solves. It is as Bill starts wooing Dora that Egloff appears to lose her imaginative nerve. Bill is by now very obviously a poetic symbol in the play's more serious argument and has a clear function - to release Dora's heart from the Plath-like deep freeze to which it has been consigned by her previous three marriages. Bill's red-blooded attentions stand in direct contrast to Kevin's domesticated therapy-led approach.

By the end one wishes Kevin would exclaim in good Ibsen style 'But swans just don't do things like that]' Middle America might be said to occupy a similar place in contemporary dramatic imagination to that of Scandinavia a hundred years ago. The difference is that in those days you got your symbolism as a main course, not as a side-order.

Continues at The Traverse to 18 April. Box office 031-226 2633

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