The warmup music of ABBA and You Don’t Own Me, as sung by the cast of The First Wives Club, foreshadows the camp references abound in Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist. The play’s plot revolves around Walter – a young man whose relationship has ended and who is contemplating suicide. The real star here, though, is acting behemoth Tilda Swinton, lovingly played by Tom Lenk, who descends on Walter’s life to draw inspiration and inspire him in turn.
This hyperbolic version of the actress is played in all her esoteric glory with ethereal aesthetics, wafting hand gestures and mellifluous voice. She has arrived to get into character for a film role and devotes the next twenty minutes to – hilariously – capturing the movement and idiosyncrasies of Walt. Writer of the show Byron Lane plays this part but isn’t as dynamic as Lenk which detracts from the illusion a little.
However Lenk alone engages us and the physical aspects of the performance become funnier and more exaggerated as the play continues, earning some of the biggest laughs. In fact, this really could be a one-man (or one-woman) show. Lenk’s ridiculous pronunciations, rapport with the audience, and eccentric leftfield references are masterful enough to captivate us. The subplot of Walter’s parents feels unnecessary and even the central story surrounding Walt’s love life is difficult to care much about – such is the magnetism of the Swinton caricature.
Tilda Swinton is niche. Even though the audience are surely familiar with the real-life star, several of the references to parts in her indie films are very specific. But this is eclipsed by the wit and grandeur of the central performance. The actual narrative feels overstuffed but Lenk is the winning ticket, earning a standing ovation at this performance.