by Yani Perez . . .

The new play by Caitlin Saylor Stephens, Modern Swimwear, is based on the tragic death of swimwear designer Sylvie Cachay in 2010. Her dreams of becoming a fashion success ended at the age of 33 when she was drowned in a bathtub by her boyfriend, Nicholas Brooks, at the Soho House in New York City. The play depicts the imagined last night the couple spent together in the hotel room. 

Although there are some poignant moments, the script focuses on mundane points more than the actual details of the relationship or the gravity of the situation. This is evident when Sylvie (Fig Chilcott) discusses the importance of hydration and water. She spends less time addressing Nick’s destructive behavior (Frank Zwally) or her own needs. One particular detail that stood out was the use of flashing lights (which was nicely done by Sarah Johnston) whenever Nick touched Sylvie. The flash indicated Nick’s adverse reaction when he was close to her. This action makes Sylvie feel as if she is the problem putting her in a position to try to fix the issue- his issue- meanwhile, Nick is unapologetic. 

Frank Zwally and Fig Chilcott 

Other instances feel unlikely to happen. For example, after an evening of Nick burning her bed, emotionally and physically abusing her, she barely acknowledges that he is not a good person and much less an ideal partner. After multiple attempts to appease his insecurities and desires, it isn’t until the end of the play that she finally realizes that he is not fit for her. At this point, she finally breaks up with him. Chilcott and Zwally are fully invested in their portrayal of the characters. Chilcott offers varying levels of emotion. While Zwally is more one leveled which could be attributed to the direction or the script. 

The set design by Christopher and Justin Swader skillfully captures the style of the Soho House hotel room. They even included a bathroom with a full tub. The costumes by Patricia Marjorie work well with the context of the play and characters.

Stephens has good intentions by bringing this story of domestic abuse and toxic relationships to the stage. In the program, there is a note stating that “Modern Swimwear is a play about patterns. The patterns that bind us and blind us. It’s a tragedy about the surreptitious ways that people and patterns can belie their true intentions while second guessing their own needs. It’s a play about … about patterns of power, violence and the brutal lengths….” It touches on these points but needs to further explore its entry points into the life and event that brought death to this talented woman way before her time. 

Modern Swimwear by Caitlin Saylor Stephens will play at The Tank (312 West 36th Street) until February 12. For information: 

Photos: Julieta Cervantes