99 WAYS TO FUCK A SWAN is playwright Kim Rosenstock's extended riff on the origin, history, and meaning of Michelangelo's "Leda and the Swan," which features... well, a woman named Leda fucking a swan. (Do an image search—the swan is totally into it.) The play intercuts between four separate narratives: the original Greek myth, Michelangelo's creation of the painting, the bizarre effect that owning the painting has on a wealthy couple in Victorian England, and a modern-day college student writing about the history of the piece in an effort to woo his twitchy English prof. This last serves as the frame for the other stories, with the student, Dave (Mario Calcagno), acting as chorus. The script is well crafted and original, and is directed and acted with all the élan we've come to expect from Theatre Vertigo.
The ensemble is clearly having a blast with the material, and they do a great job with it. Most of the cast play multiple roles, and do so ably. Hilarious, scene-stealing performances from JR Wickman and Dainichia Noreault are especially notable ("Lucrezia!" is your new sexual battle cry), as are Danielle Larson and Megan H. Carver.
99 Ways isn't without its flaws. Mario Calcagno can be a bit hammy as Dave, and the spicy meatball accents in the Michelangelo vignettes distract from what would otherwise be a moving performance from Joel Harmon. But the biggest issue is with the tone of the piece itself, which shifts abruptly, jarringly, between acts. Act I is a straight-up comedy, but Act II takes a sharp turn into darker territory, ratcheting up the audience discomfort level as it explores the psychology of fetishism with long, squirmy monologues about the difficulties of being—or being with—a sexual deviant. Luckily, the play's climax—an epic, pansexual frenzy involving a box of feathers, an orange tabby cat, and a roll of duct tape—prevents the play from devolving into tedious, Off-Broadway baggage-porn.
Despite these problems (which are minor, really), 99 Ways is an entertaining exploration of love and sex that's well worth the ticket price. The cast is great, the set is as beautiful as it is bizarre, and Megan Kate Ward's direction elevates what could have been an exercise in tedious experimentalism into something meaningful and fun. Lucrezia!