BWW Review: THE SWALLOW, Cervantes Theatre
Ray wants to learn to sing, but Emily won't take him as a pupil because, well, he isn't very good. But when she learns that it's for his mother's memorial service, her abrupt manner softens and she starts him on breathing exercises. The conversation turns to her son, killed in a shooter attack on a bar and once a school friend of Ray's. Soon, we learn more about the mother and the son and about the singer and the school friend.
Guillem Clua's Spanish play (beautifully translated by Tim Gutteridge) is a slow burn of a two-hander that steers a careful path between soap opera shouting and saccharine melodrama. That's a narrow strip of land indeed and much credit goes to director, Paula Paz, who keeps a firm hand on the elegiac tone of the writing, eschewing the easy option of displaying the kind of emotional incontinence one sees so much of these days.
Paz draws out two very fine performances from her cast. Jeryl Burgess starts out as a kind of Miss Jean Brodie caricature, all tough love for her pupils, but, inch by inch, reveals the complexity inherent in loving a son she barely knew, in holding on to religious beliefs she knows to be in conflict with her underlying decency and in coming to terms with a world that has little in it that reduces to a simple binary choice of "right" or "wrong".
David Luque's Ray drives the narrative, his eyes never still, his cover story unravelling as much in the growing confidence of his movements as in his words, as the real Ray emerges, More than his female counterpart in this intense intimate production, Luque could retreat into clichés and make Ray a type, a mouthpiece, but Clua's writing is too good for that and Luque's acting too sensitive.
We have to believe that this odd couple are real people - and we do.
The play raises questions rather than provides answers, but the constant undercurrent concerns the nature of love and the compromises it demands. Though it took an act of unimaginable hate to bring this pair together, we leave believing that love may come in many guises, but it always has more in common between its forms of expression than it does with hate.
Metaphorically, if not quite literally, I hugged my sons a little closer when I got home - and that's never a bad reaction for a play to provoke.