The Red Eye is known for showcasing experimental and unconventional works of theater, and Janet Allard’s “The Swim” is no exception. A play that takes place in an ocean, it’s a performance involving monologues, movement, and eclectic live music performed by Rhoda Lund as Auntie No Hoo Hoo, one of the more eccentric characters.
Allard describes “The Swim” as an “impossible play,” and it is so on more than one level – beginning with its setting, and carrying through to the individual goals of each character. Meng Jiang (Katie Leo) is in search of her missing husband, Mr. Jiang, who has been thrown into the sea by a hostile emperor. Mary Lou (Jillia Pessenda) seeks to break the world record by swimming around the world, and Mimi Chasms (Miriam Must) is a figure from the past whose corset has temporarily saved her from a stabbing death by a jilted lover.
Don’t look for a linear narrative – there is none; this play is as circular as the course taken by the performers as they “swim” around the stage. In the role of three different men, John Bolding engages with each of the women as they swirl about. Lund looks on from her island perch off to one side, evoking a sort of voodoo magic as she plays a series of drums, flutes, and stringed instruments.
The rather unusual situations faced by each of the characters makes for some wonderfully ironic lines, such as when Meng Jiang contemplates jumping into the sea after her husband and concludes that “to jump or not to” is a “question of agency.” Mary Lou shouts truisms between mouthfuls of energy-giving carbs – “It’s only pain” and “Get back in the game!” And when Chasms begins to fail after revealing the knife protruding from her corset, she complains to the others, only to be told, “Endure it or pull it out yourself.”
Ultimately, “The Swim” is an experiment in metaphor that doesn’t entirely captivate, in part because it remains torn between a theatrical exploration of a competition we can’t entirely believe in, and an experiment in movement that doesn’t quite stay afloat.