A lot goes on in Kim Rosenstock’s survey of sexual deviance, directed in its world premiere production by Megan Kate Ward. Not, as the title suggests, a swan sutra, the show crosses centuries and continents to examine a great catalog of kinks, among them exhibitionism, bestiality, masochism, murder, erotic hair removal and the groping of little girls. It is, unlike most plays about perversion, endlessly funny and even kind of uplifting.
Mario Calcagno plays Dave, a professional photoshopper who takes a freshman fiction course in hopes of working out some of his many issues on paper. The teacher, Fiona (Brooker Fletcher), assigns him to write about Leda’s seduction by swan-shaped Zeus. (Rosenstock has said the play grew out of a similar writing assignment during her time at Yale.) The subject suits him, since he’s got a thing about women and cats, and he pens an epic while we watch. His work comprises an unconventional take on the Leda myth, the painting of Michelangelo’s lost Leda and the Swan and that painting’s fate. When he isn’t writing, he goes on an excruciatingly awkward date and a terrifying job interview. And everywhere he goes, in and out of his head, he is surrounded by sexual oddities.
Rosenstock is interested in the ways people with unusual fetishes cope with their proclivities, and many of her characters are ruined by their attempts to find gratification. But despite a few moments of real darkness, the play keeps a heady comedic pace. Calcagno is too handsome to make a believable sad sack, but he does awkward painfully well. J.R. Wickman, Joel Harmon, Tom Walton and Danielle Larson, each of whom gets a three-part workout, all handle the jumps ably; Walton’s turn as a fast-talking pornographer is inspired, Wickman makes a great uninterested shrink, and Harmon is a delightfully creepy butler.
Given the subject matter of the show, it would be easy for a director to wallow in vulgarity or make a clown of Dave, but Ward emphasizes the loneliness and despair of a conflicted cat-fancier, and understands that loneliness can be funny. She’s got chops.
SEE IT: Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., 306-0870, theatrevertigo.org. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, closes Feb. 12. $15, Thursdays are pay-what-you-will.