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Theater Review: Last Swallows, Moving Premiere

The cast of Last Swallows. Photo by Ed Krieger.


Families. We’ve all got them. The generalities – love and rivalry, death and dessert – are universal. Only the specifics differ, like the traditional family crumble, cobbler, or pecan pie.

In Last Swallows, a production by Pandaria’s Canary Yellow Company now playing at the Other Space at the Actors Company, Playwright Cailin Maureen Harrison tells a universal family story that’s all in the details. Mother Elizabeth Whitestone (Shaw Purnell) struggles to organize a summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard with her three grown children. She hints gently that this could be the last one with their curmudgeonly bird-watching father Robert (Bob Telford), who may have some nameless disease.

But everybody’s so busy these days. They have work obligations, relationship issues, money problems. They’re pulled in so many directions…but somehow not east, toward the Vineyard. The siblings one-up each other with excuses ranging from valid to lame. Mother stands firm. Father gazes through his binoculars.

This impressive world premiere production features staging that shows the branches of the family in their four different corners, both individually and simultaneously. They speak to each other in a way that can feel more like riffs; miscommunication often slackens family ties rather than strengthening them. Clever wordplay, coupled with tight direction by Kiff Scholl, underscores familial similarities that family members seem powerless to embrace. A surprisingly opulent set designed by Brad Bentz appropriately evokes the homes of an upper middle class New England family.

The three siblings, Julia (Tina Van Bercekelaer), Caroline (Abby Eiland) and Thomas (Ty Mayberry) are well-drawn and well-acted, revealing the impact of past recriminations and deep-rooted love. It’s the spouses Edward (Matthew Downs), Simone (Leah Zhang) and Moira (Leilani Smith) who provide grounding through the perspective of insiders who are also outsiders. (In my closeknit family, the spouses of my father’s generation call themselves the outlaws.)

Sensitive casting and the actors’ talent built a group that feels like a family. As the mother who used to be able to call the shots for her kids, Purnell rings impeccably true. Telford is subtle yet forceful as the father. Daughter-in-law Moira in particular moves the story forward, and Smith plays her with great empathy.

Thoughtful touches abound. Well-curated music from Talking Heads to Portugal. The Man introduces and punctuates the action; it would make a great Spotify playlist. Even the program insert listing cast and crew is beautifully designed. Swallows is a class act.

Last Swallows runs through Oct. 20 at The Other Space @The Actors Company, 916 A North Formosa Ave. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here with discounts available.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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