Long Beach Shakespeare Company offers exciting escape with ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’

Foreground, from left: Jonah Goger (Father) and Rachel Speth (Mother) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “The Swiss Family Robinson” radio play”.

The best thing about Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s (LBSC) radio play, “The Swiss Family Robinson,” is that it carries us far away while we are stuck at home in lockdown. Streaming through Jan. 31, this “old-time” radio-style play features sound effects galore that shipwreck us along with the Robinsons as they make a new home in the South Pacific.

LBSC veteran Ken Knight adapted Johann David Wyss’s original 1812 novel and directs it with emphatic energy as a crisp 47-minute radio broadcast from KBRD– the 1940s radio station inside the Helen Borgers Theatre at 4250 Atlantic Ave.– complete with commercial breaks promoting a local flower shop and bar.

“’The Swiss Family Robinson’ is a story that fans of classic literature THINK they are familiar with,” Knight notes. “Before you begin to watch and hear this version, try to forget what you think you know.”

Knight stays true to the “travel log” nature of the book, relating the Robinsons’ plucky efforts to survive on a remote island. Fortunately, the resourceful family– comprised here of Father (Jonah Goger), Mother (Rachel Speth), and sons Fritz (Wyatt Najarian) and Francis (Tommy Tingley)– soon discover fresh water and something called bananas.

It also helps that the ship they came on has chickens, dogs, a donkey and fruit and nut plants, including a coffee sapling, which for some reason makes Mother especially happy. However, to get those supplies from the ship, Father and Fritz must sail on their makeshift raft, grappling with obstacles like a ferocious storm and vicious shark attack. 

Adventuresome music and intricate sound effects created by the cast– including animal noises, an epic explosion, crackling fire, rifle shots and water splashing– add to the story’s suspense and strangeness. 

Strangest of all is discovering a familiar tongue in the island’s midst (entertainingly voiced by Knight), and also perhaps the surprisingly easy welcome of an interracial marriage, which seems discordant with the Robinsons’ religion. After all, their trip’s initial purpose was to “spread the word of God” to the “primitive people” of the South Pacific. 

But this brave new world ends up being bilingual and inclusive, and kids of all ages will enjoy venturing into it with the Robinsons through vividly spoken words and sounds. 

Book-readers will appreciate young Francis consulting his tomes on animals and plants to figure out if donkeys can swim and whether monkeys eat meat. And the more daring will admire 15-year-old Fritz bravely exploring with Father while threatening to fire his rifle at the merest provocation. 

Mother is at first the most out-of-place on the island, occasionally hysterical and with not much to do besides tending the signal fire and wishing for coffee. But even she begins to feel at home, shredding her corset and becoming a connoisseur of wild-boar soup.

“I have everything I want right here,” Father says toward the end. We can certainly relate, since we have little choice right now. All the more reason to sail away for a short but epic journey with the likeable and intrepid Robinsons. 

Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s “The Swiss Family Robinson” radio play is available to stream for $25 per household for unlimited views through Jan. 31. Tickets can be purchased at LBShakespeare.org.


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