In "Snapshot," Jan, a writer (played by Joanne Latimer), reflects back on her youth in a working-class Irish family in Toronto, focusing mainly on memories of her Aunt Sissy.

Played with commanding presence and gusto by the play's author, Samantha Swan, Sissy is a boozy, sensual force of nature with a lust for life and a penchant for dancing at the drop of a hat. There's a strong bond between Sissy and the young Jan as the Aunt insistes that she get out and see the world and escape the kind of life Sissy has.

Swan makes Sissy charismatic as she smiles and charms her way into various hearts, including that of her latest husband, the too-young, fiery-tempered Dermot, whose agression causes Sissy to miscarry and gives her a black eye. There's a sweet bartender who longs to take care of Sissy and it's a very sweet moment in the play when he sees her home after she's had one too many.

As Sissy is on her downward spiral, Jan's talent is emerging as her writing skills gain her entry into a special school. Especially lyrical is a scene in the play when Sissy confesses to a very open young priest and she tells him of how she had sex with a stranger in a movie theater. (The same actor plays the priest and the stranger, which adds a layer of complexity to the action.)

Things with Dermot get darker and he becomes more abusive, yet Sissy can't leave him.

The two men in the play, Steven Puchalski and Sergio Gallinaro play over a dozen roles between them and really do a remarkable job. Snapshot is a very poignant look at a life that is bigger than its confines. Moving and tender, with characters you feel as if you've really gotten to know, this play is a vibrant exercise for the emotions.
Oh Janny Girl
A writer named Jan reflects on the sins and secrets of her Irish
upbringing in Canada, in "Snapshot."

New York Reviews
AUGUST 24, 2001 • The New York Theatre Experience, Inc.

reviewed by Tim Cusack

Over the course of the 2001 FringeNYC I’ve seen many extraordinary performances, but none has moved me as much as Samantha Swan’s turn in the Cygnet Theatre Company’s production of Snapshot. Swan is not only an exciting acting discovery; as the author of the play, she is most definitely a talent to watch, albeit one in need of further cultivation. Her ear for the speech of ordinary people is dead on, neither too preciously poetic nor too TV prosaic. She manages to balance both a playful sense of the expressive potentials hidden within language with a realist’s commitment to getting it down as it really is. The combination, when she succeeds, is nothing short of riveting.

Snapshot is very much in the Tennessee Williams tradition of the reminiscence-of-family-trauma play as relayed from the vantage point of the writer who survived to tell the tale. As in The Glass Menagerie, the telling involves no end of guilt on the part of the surviving character, in this case Jan, a cosmopolitan Toronto-ite, looking back on her blue-collar Catholic upbringing in a Canadian backwater. She is trying to write the story of her family, specifically her Aunt Sissy’s disruptive presence in their lives, but the sheer overwhelming emotional force of her memories keeps derailing her narrative, and she is forced to start over, jump ahead, or flash back, as long suppressed details jostle to the forefront, demanding their moment in the theatrical limelight. These shifts in time and narrative focus are dramaturgically the weakest part of the play. She hasn’t quite figured out a way for them to emerge inevitably from the ebb and flow of her writer’s thoughts, and, consequently, we’re much too conscious of the gears shifting from past to present and back again. However, her evocation of the simultaneity of desperate loneliness and overcrowded imagination inherent in the writing process always rings true, which goes a long way to forgiving the structural lapses.

Interestingly, Swan does not give herself the part of the writer (actually played by Joanne Latimer, and with such utter conviction that it was not until after the show that I realized she wasn’t the author of the piece). Instead, Swan chooses to embody Aunt Sissy in all of her Rubenesque exuberance. Sissy has two obsessions in life: travel to exotic lands and dancing. She’s never been outside of Canada, so the only traveling she does is in her nightly explorations of the liquor concoctions evoking places she’ll never visit. As for dancing, she’s never actually taking a class; preferring to perfect her moves on the tiny dance floors of various local pubs. Dancing for her is a way of distinguishing herself from the emotionally repressed members of her family, as well as the first step in an almost nightly seduction ritual involving the various bartenders and bar flies she meets on her drinking rounds. Sissy may have two obsessions, but she also possesses two addictions: booze and boys. Definitely an alcoholic and probably a sex addict, Sissy is, regardless, the only one in the family to ever speak the truth about anything and the only one to recognize and nurture Jan’s talent. It is she who encourages Jan to leave their circumscribed life and venture out into the world to pursue a writing career. She only does this, though, after one of her "husbands" crosses the line from the avuncular to the predatory.

I’ve never before quite seen a character like her on stage. Her appearance is not conventionally actress-y. ("She looks exactly like Monica Lewinsky," my companion pointed out.) Not a small woman, she moves with extraordinary grace and the physical precision of a ballerina. We understand the psychological insecurities that might compel this woman to seek the constant sexual approval of strange men, but we also completely understand why these men are more than happy to comply. The sex scene between Sissy and the Quebecois bartender she picks up one night is by far the hottest thing I’ve seen in this year’s festival. Sensitive to the woman’s emotional yearnings, yet uncompromising in her depiction of Sissy’s weaknesses, Swan’s song for this complex woman lingers long in the mind.

Written by Samantha Swan
Cast: Sergio Gallinaro,
Joanne Latimer, Steven Puchalski,
Samantha Swan
Directed by Christopher Comrie