Updated: Jun 20, 2020
“True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings” ― William Shakespeare
An amazingly dysfunctional family, headed by elderly couple Elizabeth and her bird-watching husband Robert is currently at the heart of Cailin Maureen Harrison’s profound, mini-epic family tale, “Last Swallows,” a fervid, intimate dramedy, currently making its world premiere at West Hollywood’s Other Space Theater at The Actors Company.
Set in present-day New England, the story is framed through the contemporary scope of a diverse family, with Elizabeth planning out everyone’s summer vacation, only to have her plans amended. Often poignant, often infuriating, but always quite amusing, the retired patriarch is happy to see life go by through binoculars birdwatching while the doting matriarch only wants her family to simply all be together. Ms. Harrison gets up close and personal with the dynamics of the parents, their three adult children, and their spouses, with all the attendant ups and downs. The play aims to present a complex chaotic family as they deal with the natural progression of life and the inevitable tribulations that must be faced. But in the end, there is hope and forgiveness.
As the play begins, Elizabeth is convinced her husband Robert is at death's door, and she's determined to get the whole brood together for a final family holiday, quickly, before his bird has flown. Of course, the rest of the family have their own lives, agendas and emergencies to contend with, and can’t seem to commit, but those few obstacles won't stop Elizabeth. She’s made a New Year’s resolution to finally get the family together at Martha’s Vineyard as one last hurrah.
Elizabeth is easily the most fleshed out character and Shaw Purnell underscores every nuance with her strong and commanding presence—even when her character is struck weak by various obstacles, both physically and mentally. Elizabeth’s desperation to bring her family together is striking, and grounds the plot with convincing emotional stakes. Ms. Purnell also brings humor to Elizabeth through her occasional naiveties and frequent fixations—the same fixations that bring deep sadness at other moments of the play.
Collectively, these people are meant to be defined by a chaotic energy, with a lot of moving parts that conflict. To establish this, the playwright employs overlapping dialogue and intricately intermeshed scenes occurring simultaneously in different locales which capture the randomness and discord of family life.
The bickering siblings alternate between genuine concern for their failing parents and monstrous selfishness—loving, lacerating interactions with a ring of truth.
As in some families, sibling relations veer towards combative, as each assigns blame with almost deliberate miscommunication. The tensions keep them apart, until sadly, it becomes obvious that a ticking time bomb awaits them with devastating news. The puzzle-piece scenes poses a daunting challenge for any director, but Kiff Scholl is a savvy hand who corrals Harrison’s challenging cacophony into a concise, comprehensible format.
Shaw Purnell (“Villain,” “Deathtrap”) stars as Elizabeth Whitestone, the matriarch of the family, and Bob Telford (“Waiting for Grace,” “A Few Good Men”) portrays Robert Whitestone, the patriarch. Tina Van Berckelaer (Grand Guignolers de Paris; and recently performed with The Porters of Hellsgate) plays the eldest child Julia Whitestone Gray, who is married with children to Edward Gray, played by Matthew Downs (“Straight Outta Compton,” “In Plain Sight”); Ty Mayberry (“Argonautika,” “The Glass Menagerie”) plays middle child Thomas Whitestone, who is happily child-free and married to bi-racial Moira Grady, played by Leilani Smith (“Dancing Lessons,” “Flyin' West”); Abby Eiland (“Welcome to Santa,” “Classy Parties”) plays the youngest child, Dr. Caroline Whitestone Perry, who is in a same-sex marriage with children to Simone Perry, an Asian-American politician played by Leah Zhang (“Ocean's Twelve”).
"Loosely based on my husband’s family, I wrote Last Swallows, first and foremost as a sort of thank you to my mother-in-law, but also because it’s a universal story of family dynamics and the squabbling that comes with the territory,” exclaims Ms. Harrison. “The feedback from those who have read the play is always the same—‘that’s exactly my family!’—completely relatable! This is a story about an outsider trying to become part of her husband’s family and a mother-in-law who learns to appreciate her.“
Playwright Cailin Maureen Harrison is a graduate of the USC MFA screenwriting program and won the Hollywood Fringe Festival Producer’s Choice Award in 2014 for her play, "Waitless." Among her productions are “Last Swallows,” “Whole Foods,” “Talk in Ten,” “Oh Christmas Tree – Why Me?” “Binding Ties” and “Connections.” In November, Harrison returns with her play “Defenders” which will have its first full run at the Broadwater Theater in Hollywood. Taking place during WWII with three American G.I.s who are shipwrecked on a tiny Icelandic island, “Defenders” explores where the lines between myth and reality blur.
Kiff Scholl’s recent directorial productions include “The Direction Home,” “West Bollywood,” “The Last Schwartz,” “Brilliant Traces,” “The Red Dress,” “Wicked Pagan Gays,” “Future Sex, Inc.,” “Please Don’t Ask About Becket,” “Dinner at Home Between Deaths,” and “Moon Over Buffalo” (BroadwayWorld nominee). His shows have garnered seven Backstage Garland awards, five LA Weekly awards, a GLAAD nomination and an Ovation award. Scholl was listed as “one of LA’s emerging and accomplished stage directors” by the LA Weekly.
The creative team for Last Swallows includes set designer Brad Bentz, sound designer Jesse Mandapat and costume designer Alex Jaeger. The production stage manager is Seira Murakami, and Racquel Lehrman; Theatre Planners produces.
"Last Swallows” is presented by Pandelia’s Canary Yellow Company, and performs at The Other Space @ The Actors Company, 916A North Formosa Avenue (south of Santa Monica Blvd.), West Hollywood, through October 20th. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 PM.
Running time is one hour and 50 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. This show is highly recommended! For tickets and for more information, call (323) 960-5770, or online at http://www.OnStage411.com/swallows
The Show Report