blackbirdonline journalFall 2009  Vol. 8  No. 2

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DAVID CAUDLE | The Common Swallow

Director’s Commentary by Kirsten Kelly

When David approached me to direct the first outing of The Common Swallow, I thought, “I don’t have time to take this on,” but after finishing the play, I knew I had to make the time. The play hit very close to home for me. I grew up in Michigan, in Oceana County, which is the self-proclaimed “Asparagus Capital of the World.” Asparagus pride cemented the community in a way that was oddly comforting. On trips home from my professional life in Chicago and New York, I watched my hometown community slowly dissolve, as the “War on Drugs” had induced NAFTA to lift the embargo on asparagus imports from Peru.  Families lost their farms and were displaced from their land. The thirty-year-old festival began to lose its heart. The close-knit fabric of the county began to unravel. To document this, I co-wrote and co-directed a film called Asparagus! Stalking the American Life, which made film festival rounds in 2006 and aired on PBS in 2009. The Common Swallow tells the same story, though on a more personal, individual level. One of the central characters, Jim, is a homeless, drug-addicted youth in rural Indiana. Karen, another central character, is a local girl turned New Yorker, who has lost all feeling of connection with her roots. Tripp, Karen’s brother, expresses frustration at being stuck in the town of his birth, even as he fights to claim a place there. I immediately saw The Common Swallow as a heartfelt lament that echoes my own and I knew I was the right person to help David tell his story.

About a month before we began to rehearse, David and I started to examine the play from a dramaturgical perspective. The scenes between Karen and Tripp in particular had an ambling, redundant quality about them that felt natural to a brother and sister getting reacquainted, but that diffused the tension and slowed the action of the play. There was also something anticlimactic about the placement of the intermission. We discussed reordering certain scenes and attempted to create an arc within each scene featuring Karen and Tripp, each arc marking an escalation of their conflict and a deepening of the tension between them. David spent about a month revising the play, and on the first day of rehearsal, we had another table read. The changes worked well for pacing, rising action, and clarity. One Karen/Tripp scene still had a snag, though, and in Jim’s homecoming scene, Jim’s mental state was not as clearly defined in the language as it could have been. David solved those issues in a couple of days and we set out to get the play on its feet within two weeks. The talented, dedicated actors were remarkable to watch. The audience was clearly moved and was appreciative of the work. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, and seeing The Common Swallow performed was a great step for this play, and crucial for David and me as we move toward a full production.  bug

Kirsten Kelly’s bio can be found in the playbill.

   Characters and Setting  |  Act One  |  Act Two