A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits: Coming to Term(s) With the Impossible

Coming to term(s) with the impossible

'A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits'

The gestation period for a rabbit is about four weeks. The gestation period for a play about a woman who gives birth to rabbits is about nine years – at least in the case of C. Denby Swanson. It was in 2001 that the author of The Death of a Cat first learned of Mary Toft, an Englishwoman who, in 1726, claimed to have given birth to bunnies and then persuaded several prominent physicians that she'd done it. Now, in 2010, Swanson's dramatic riff on that historical event, A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits, is receiving its world premiere, with Salvage Vanguard Theater serving as midwife. Here's the playwright describing how her work changed during that exceptional "pregnancy."

C. Denby Swanson: I was trying to apply for a Sloan grant, which supports new plays about science or technology, and I found a book called The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. It's a terrible, terrible book, but looking at the title, I thought: "That's my idea right there. I don't know what my play is, but that's my subject." I was into reproductive technology and what we're able to do with our bodies. We're making body parts out of animal parts. We're creating clones out of animal cells that are implanted into humans. That was where it started.

You know, the thing about science plays is that they become about men. They become about male scientists. A lot of them are biography plays or "here's what this guy discovered." I was really interested in troubling the waters in what science plays feel like, so it felt natural to write one about a woman who wasn't a scientist and find some nugget of a play about that event and rethink what we know about science. Because people at that time believed you could have rabbit babies. There were all kinds of beliefs about reproduction and this odd perspective on women's bodies. People used to think that whatever a woman imagined, she made, like that was how conception and gestation happened: A woman just imagined it, and somehow her body would make a baby. And in the form of whatever she imagined.

[Then] it became a play about infertility in a huge way, following the story of Kitty, the infertile sister [of Mare, who gives birth to rabbits]. She powerfully wants a child, and she's been unable to make one for herself in her own body, so that's where that part of the story landed: the incapability of this one woman to be part of the magic that is the creation of a child. Enlisting her sister, who is so magical that she creates things that have nothing to do with babies at all.

Austin Chronicle: So your Mary Toft is not perpetuating a hoax?

CDS: Mare in this play is not perpetuating a hoax. Mary Toft in the 1700s was, but Mare in this play is not. [Giving birth to rabbits] is actually something she can do.

AC: How did you imagine the rabbits being represented?

CDS: I think they were always puppets. I felt like we had to see them. She has rabbits. We have to see the rabbits! At the first reading at the Playwrights' Center in 2006, my director at the time, Bonnie Schock, came up with the idea that this vaginal puppet theatre would appear, and things would pop out of it. It was a fantastic, impossible image. I thought: "No one will ever do this play if there is a vaginal puppet theatre. That will be a deal breaker for every single production of this play." And, of course, I'm a Swanson, so I think: "No one will do it. That's what I'm gonna do."


A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits runs Feb. 12-March 6, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, at Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd. For more information, visit www.salvagevanguard.org.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits
Arts Review
A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits
This fantastical show, like a circus, delivers one engaging act after another

Avimaan Syam, March 5, 2010

More Austin plays
Becoming Birds
Becoming Birds
'The Philomel Project' allows myth to take wing at the Blue Theater

Barry Pineo, Nov. 5, 2004

More Arts Reviews
All the Way
All the Way
In Zach Theatre's staging of this epic political drama about LBJ, the fight for civil rights feels particularly urgent

Robert Faires, May 1, 2015

Random Acts of Magic
Random Acts of Magic
The 2015 batch of Out of Ink 10-minute plays is a satisfying buffet of silliness and thoughtfulness

Elizabeth Cobbe, May 1, 2015

More by Robert Faires
"The Femme Abstract"
Moya McIntyre’s second edition of this group show ushers in the new year with a glorious plenitude of color and imagery

Jan. 8, 2021

<i>Hotrod Golgotha</i> by W. Joe Hoppe
Hotrod Golgotha
In this collection, the Austin poet delivers a high octane paean to cars and all that makes them cool

Jan. 1, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits, Austin plays, C. Denby Swanson, Salvage Vanguard Theater, The Playwrights' Center

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle