Last Swallows is a funny heartwarming dramady that manages to perfectly encapsulate the challenges of dealing with ones own family, coupled off with an excellent cast and strong direction this one is a clear winner.
Presented by Pandelia’s Canary Yellow Company
Written by Cailin Maureen Harrison’s
Directed by Kiff Scholl
The Actors Company — The Other Space Theatre, 916 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood
Fri.-Sat 8:00 p.m, Sun 2:00 p.m.; through October. 10th
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” –George Burns
I didn't know what to expect walking into Last Swallows playing now at the Actors Company. The only information I had was the poster which presented a sizable gaping maw ready to devour a poor blue little bird. Apprehensively, I settled into my seat, but as soon as the pieces of the show started to come together, I knew I was in for a real treat.
Last Swallows is first and foremost a story about family, maybe a family not so dissimilar to your own. The account follows Elizabeth (Shaw Purnell) and Robert (Bob Telford), both now retired and who reside as heads of their family in New England. Robert spends most of his time enjoying his favorite pastime bird-watching. Elizabeth spends most of her time trying to ensure her grown children get along despite their constant bickering. The family we see on stage includes the eldest Julia manages of a local floral shop (Tina Van Berckelaer), along with her spouse Edward (Matthew Downs). The middle child Matthew (Ty Mayberry) is an international banker with his spouse Moira (Leilani Smith). Finally, the youngest Caroline (Abbey Eiland) is a physician and her wife Simone (Leah Zhang). Unseen by us are the grandchildren, or grandcats.
When Robert begins to display signs of health problems, Elizabeth endeavors on a mission to corral the entire tribe into one last family vacation together at Martha's Vineyard, fearing that with her children now grown and with families of their own it might be the last opportunity to do so. Although this proves to be much more complicated than she realizes therein the drama of the show ensues. Anyone who has ever attempted to plan a significant event for one's family and coordinate multiple schedules can certainly sympathize.
There were plenty of aspects of the show I enjoyed, chiefly the casting. I applaud the decision to intentionally ensure that none of the drama that the family deals with is because the stepdaughter Moira is a person of color or that the daughter Abby is married to a woman. It is refreshing to see blended families normalized. Acting-wise the entire cast does a good job with their performances, all seem to capture the nuances and microaggressions that come with interacting with your family. I want to highlight Purnell's and Smith's respective performances. They have tremendous chemistry together and shared some real tender moments on stage, including a scene involving chapstick that brought a tear to my eye.
The superb set design and staging by the crew makes the absolute most of the small space. While at times a little disorienting and overwhelming, this further reinforces the notion of familial chaos.
As far as criticisms, the first third of the play felt a bit slow but quickly sets a pace for the rest of the show. Additionally, some of the musical choices during transitions seem too eclectic to me, varying from smooth to upbeat rock by way of Green Day didn't seem to quite fit the theme. And finally, I know this would add potential complications, but I personally would have loved to see the grandchildren. It would have been interesting to see the impact and interactions they may have with their grandparents.
Overall, Last Swallows perfectly portrays how trying family can be at times. You as the audience member can feel how hard it is to manage the connected, intertwined yet absolutely separate lives of dozens of individuals.
I recommend checking out this one before it flies away.
Trailer with Director Kiff Scholl, playwright Cailin Maureen Harrison and cast members (Matthew Downs, Abby Eiland,Ty Mayberry, Shaw Purnell, Leilani Smith) discussing Last Swallows