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Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Inis Nua Theatre Company
Review by Cameron Kelsall | Season Schedule

Also see Cameron's review of Happy Birthday

Felicia Leicht and Corinna Burns
Photo by Katie Reing
Scottish playwright Stef Smith prefaces the published script of Swallow, which is being given a US premiere production by Inis Nua Theatre Company, with a quote from Frida Kahlo: "I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels flawed and bizarre in the same ways I do." Smith's compact, quietly moving play examines the lives of three people who feel doomed to be the strangest people in their own lives, and who struggle to make sense of their existence.

Swallow is very much a play about lives in transition—literally and figuratively. Rebecca (Felicia Leicht) struggles to reintegrate into society after a painful divorce and an accident that left her slightly disfigured. Sam (Samy el-Noury)—formerly Samantha—is still discovering what it means to live authentically in his own skin. And Anna (Corinna Burns), a shut-in who hasn't left her apartment in "two Christmases," tries to make sense of whatever time she has left by constructing a giant mosaic bird's nest—a place where she can rest, as she says.

As seems to be the style of many plays coming out of the British Isles these days, much of Swallow is delivered to the audience in an alternating series of direct-address monologues. This can be grating, but it works more often than not for the story Smith is telling. Her characters are people who have deliberately separated themselves from the outside world—and, in some cases, from their own selves. When they speak directly to the audience, it feels as if they are revealing their innermost secrets in a way they never could to another person. But this is not to say that they don't eventually form intriguing bonds with each other, however tenuous and influenced by their particular peccadilloes.

Director Claire Moyer's fluid production foregrounds the poetic intricacies of Smith's text, and she's been gifted with a supremely talented cast who communicate volumes in even the most muted moments. First among equals is Burns, whose Anna is both vividly drawn and appropriately enigmatic. Although she spends the majority of the play relegated to a small, elevated playing area (the expertly fragmented set is by Meghan Jones), Burns' Anna always remains the center of attention, even at her most catatonically broken. Leicht and el-Noury both turn in finely tuned performances, although their Scottish accents distractingly waver from time to time.

Swallow is not a play of revelations. In many ways, it leaves its audience with as many questions as answers. But so does life. Whether or not the wounds these three people have endured eventually heal is left open, but there is no doubt that they are not alone in their strangeness.

Inis Nua Theatre Company's production of Swallow continues through Sunday, May 14, 2017, at The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia. Tickets ($25-30) can be purchased online at

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