When The Swearing Jar by Kate Hewlett was first produced at the 2008 Toronto Fringe Festival, it garnered Best of Fringe and Best Ensemble awards. Now it is being revived at this year’s New York Fringe Festival, with two of the actors from the Toronto production - Kate Hewlett, the playwright (Carey) and Christopher Stanton (Owen) - reprising their Toronto roles and with two new actors – Vince Nappo (Simon) and Mimi Quillin (Bev) – rounding out the cast. And while I never saw the Toronto production, I can assure you that, if it was similar to this one in New York, it surely deserved the awards it got. This is one FringeNYC production certainly worth seeing.
The play begins with Simon and Carey, a loving, trusting couple happily married for twelve years, eagerly informing each other that they have really big news to impart. Carey gets to go first and her news is what one might expect: she’s expecting. In his joyous reaction to Carey’s news, Simon never does get to disclose what his news was but I can tell you this: if he had gone first, this would have been a very different play.
Over the course of the next hour, Simon and Carey exchange expletives (for which they agreeably contribute $5 per word to their “swearing jar,” whence derives the title of the play). They bask in the ultrasound photos of their unborn child and argue over baby names. Carey meets Owen, a bookstore employee and sometime guitarist, and she and Owen immediately hit it off – perhaps a little too well. Carey composes songs expressing her love for Simon and entertains at Simon’s fortieth birthday party - to the accompaniment of Owen’s guitar. Bev, Simon’s mother, gets into the act too, at one point coming upon Carey and Owen picnicking in the park.
But what does it all mean? Unfortunately, that’s what I can’t (or at least won’t) tell you lest I spoil all the surprises for you. This is a difficult play to review since it is nuanced and multilayered with a number of surprising twists and if I were to fully explicate it, it would ruin the pleasure you’ll derive from seeing it fresh. But suffice it to say that it all does tie together; that it deals with a slew of classical themes ranging from love and trust to life and death; that the temporal transitions necessary to make it all work are deftly handled; and that, in the final analysis, this is a most satisfying production.