Theater Review: EARLY BIRDS (Moving Arts)

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by Dale Reynolds on August 21, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


The phrase “early bird” generally denotes someone who is an early-morning riser or who shows up anywhere early, words usually attributed to the elderly. In Dana Schwartz’s light comedy, two senior women — one rich, one middle-class poor — find themselves on the first day of an ocean voyage beating the odds on building a friendship.

Ivy (Jayne Taini), stout and 60-ish, is a chatterbox, earthy and real. Nora (Jean Gilpin) is more reserved, more elegant, and not apt to try new adventures. Two dissimilar women who find themselves in the best section of the top-deck, both aware that being early to this coveted spot means they can take their pick of the deck-chairs and be left alone.

But what Ivy is not aware of — and soon enough becomes enraged about — is when she finds out that Nora is just about a permanent boarder in that you can get full medical care, three exquisite meals a day, and lovely lodgings on an ocean liner cheaper than most assisted living quarters on shore. A floating retirement village, as one of the characters insists. What’s not to like, provided one is not prone to seasickness?

Not that Nora was deliberately withholding this information from Ivy, but one the playwright thinks is a serious plot-point, when it isn’t. It almost destroys the building friendship between the two women, but … why? The childless Nora is comfortable in her single-hood and Ivy has grown children and young grandchildren, but is recently widowed, so she’s there.

The third character is, as it turns out, the owner of the cruise liner, Devon (Wendy Elizabeth Abraham), who introduces herself as the captain of the ship, even as she acts as a worker and guide. The play is almost over before we learn that she owns the ship (as she insists, “not a boat!” just like in the Navy) — another annoying plot device that seems misplaced.

So, plot points in or out of favor here, Schwartz has written solid roles for three women — two of them past 65 — not a small feat anymore, and the play is sweet enough. And the overall look of the piece (John Iacovelli), two deck chairs and a railing guard between the action and the audience, is satisfactory, giving director Elizabeth Swain a free hand in the staging and in her casting. What is slightly missing is the soundscape: while there are seagull noises and wave sounds, it’s not always audible, which distracted somewhat.

Watching actors enjoying themselves up there is always a tonic. Gilpin is the lynch-pin of the trio, with her graceful look, moves and demeanor. She plays well against Taini’s deftly over-the-top performance as the mad-for-another-new-experience gal. And the oddly too-young-looking Abraham is charm itself in her useful guide to elder health routines and philosophies.

photos by Benjamin Simpson

Early Birds
Moving Arts
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 4; Mon at 8
ends September 7, 2019
for tickets, call 323.472.5646 or visit Moving Arts

{ 1 comment }

Jeff August 30, 2019 at 11:22 am

One of the greatest endurance tests in theatergoing history. The direction was non-existent, meaning the horrible script you rightly mentioned was given little nuance by the actors (it was strange how Gilpin kept looking to her left as if searching for meaning). Miss this boat (or ship, whatever) at all costs.

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