Dancing as a young man in Europe, Paul Swan was billed as "the most beautiful man in the world." Decades later, as an old man still wearing the same revealing neoclassical costumes, he looked into Andy Warhol's camera and declared, "I am the most famous unknown person in New York." Indeed, while Swan never achieved the recognition he desired as a modern Renaissance man — painter, sculptor, poet, dancer, and so on — he achieved a different kind of fame, largely through weekly salons held in his studio atop Carnegie Hall, every Saturday from the 1930s through the '60s. As the years progressed (and as Swan added layers of pancake makeup and black shoe polish), the tragic, the camp, and the sublime intertwined to create his greatest artwork — himself.
Playwright Claire Kiechel has a personal stake in Paul Swan; he is her great-great uncle. And in Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone, she resurrects her ancestor's salon and reimagines it as a charged theatrical space where the forces of life, death, and art do battle. Each night, the Civilians' production offers a small audience an intimate, immersive salon experience. As audience members cross the threshold into a Chelsea brownstone, they are transported to the aesthetic world of Swan's creation brought to life by actors Tony Torn, Robert Johanson, Keilly McQuail; designers Andromache Chalfant, Lucrecia Briceño, and others. It's a show not to be missed, for the main attraction, Paul Swan, may well be already dead.