Family Story (Birdtown and Swanville) 2013 SummerWorks Review

There was something about the phrasing of Birdtown and Swanville’s description of their production Family Story that drew me to it: “the youngest Milkaffer daughter tries to figure out why she’s such a loser.” Hmm. So, armed with my own slight ‘loser-ish daughter complex’ I went down to Gallery 1313 excited about what tale might be told here as part of the 2013 SummerWorks Festival. I just came back and… Guys, oh my God, guys – go see this play! For anyone with a family, hell, even if you’re a test tube baby, this production does not disappoint.

What a thrilling start to my SummerWorks experience, as the play Family Story is one of wildest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.  Its content is as relatable as it gets: what it means to be a part of family and how your identity is shaped. This premise might sound a bit generic but the story of the strained relationship between the Milkaffer mother and daughter and their family ancestry is told in such a bizzare and absurd way, with such cut-throat humor, that any pitfalls into family melodrama are assuredly avoided.

The concept is refreshing; a play inside an art show. It sets a disorienting tone immediately. Upon entry, you will find yourselves in a gallery setting with a strange and eclectic collection of handcrafted objects displayed all over the walls. What’s intriguing to me is that each object functions both as a sculptural work of art and also as one of the props the cast will use throughout the play.

As it is billed, the play really does give a sense of traveling through time ‘diagonally’, as the daughter calls upon these objects and characters from different eras spanning almost a thousand years of her family’s history. It’s an exhilarating romp through the past or rather, the hearsay nature of the past. Our memories create new realities every time we recall, with each person’s recollection of the same event quite different. In this play, the recreation of these multiple pasts takes on an exaggerated and somewhat psychedelic tone.

The entire cast is incredible. It really is an ensemble show and the collaborative energy is infectious. Writer and Director Aurora Stewart de Pena does a brilliant job of creating a story that both purges and uplifts. I left the theatre thoroughly emptied of familial pain and somewhat invigorated by this fresh example of humor and insight into the ties that bind.


  • Family Story plays at Gallery 1313 (1313 Queen Street West)
  • Show times:Thursday August 8, 6:30 pm; Friday August 9, 7:30 pm; Saturday August 10, 7:30 pm; Sunday August 11, 2:30 pm; Monday August 12, 7:30 pm; Tuesday August 13, 7:30 pm; Thursday August 15, 7:30 pm; Friday August 16, 7:30 pm; Saturday August 17, 9:30 pm; Sunday August 18, 2:30 pm.
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows

Photo credit: Cara Gee and Jaleb Alexander. Photo by James Di Donato

2 thoughts on “Family Story (Birdtown and Swanville) 2013 SummerWorks Review”

  1. Totally agree that show is an ensemble show, the attention to detail and choreographic moves to scene changes are so tight – don’t miss this show!

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