Paul Swan, an oddball of bygone Manhattan, is the protagonist of Claire Kiechel’s new play, Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone. The playwright is Swan’s great-grandniece, though too young to have known him. She has assembled an ambitious theater piece, more fantasia than drama, that depicts his story of self-invention.
Now in their 17th year, The Civilians have etched out a unique place for themselves in the New York theater scene. Employing what they refer to as “investigative theater,” company members gather source material as journalists, then transform their research into art. In The Undertaking, two performers, portraying multiple characters, enact real-life interviews centered on the act of dying. Lip-syncing, film appreciation, a small warehouse of electronic devices and a pillow fort are all utilized as the characters take an inward trip to the hereafter and expound on shuffling off this mortal coil. All the while, the production comments upon itself and divulges its own techniques. Death may be the subject of this play, but its theme is creation.