Birdwatching is a gentle recreational activity. People of all ages go birding. No specific skills but patience are required to be a birder, and listening makes it easier. Observe and add to your “life list” the birds you see, from remote natural parks, forests, and preserves to the birds that can be found in an urban or suburban environment.
The play Birds of North America, just opened at Mosaic Theater, brings you into a closer setting, a backyard, to explore the challenges of a complex relationship. Framing the story over a nine-year time span, playwright Anna Ouyang Moench focuses on a father-daughter pair. The story unfolds in detailed layers like the scattered leaves that usher in each passing year. Is there a flash of shared recognition between father and daughter beyond what can be seen through binoculars so crisply clear?
Climate change, human choices, and the desire to find understanding color this compelling and unique narrative that rings with familiarity. Director Serge Seiden has effectively delivered a close-up portrait of a family dynamic. We assume communication is natural, but time passes and in hindsight, the moments that could have made a difference are the ones that we are so sorry that we missed.
Set designer Alexa Ross creates a crisp sense of outdoor space. A picket fence curves gently. A solid suspended element conjures up a cloud while lighting by Brittany Shemuga lends a feeling of flight or casts sunset colors. Winglike images and shadows overlap to create a space that seems vast and not easily traversed.
In this environment, we first meet John, a 50-something liberal-minded scientist played by David Bryan Jackson, and daughter Caitlyn played by Regina Aquino. The two engage in lively banter, a quick-paced natural repartee between parent and an adult child. As John explains the details of birding, he finds a way to examine Caitlyn’s life choices, a boyfriend he doesn’t approve of, her job with a right-leaning organization. Sound Designer David Lamont Wilson adds swoops to follow the observed bird species: the Tufted Titmouse, the Nuthatch, the red male Northern Cardinal, and the LBJ — little brown jobs — or Sparrows that John deems common and not worth the active birding effort. The sound is delightful and unexpected and the audience reacts. A moment of levity breaks the stillness. In one specific scene, John’s description of the barn owl and its leading-edge wing feathers with microscopic hooks renders a sense of awe. It is a miracle of nature that the owl travels and hunts in deadly silence.
Between John and Caitlyn, any possibility of compromise is tempered with facial reactions that denote a dead-end. Joined together in the activity of birding that demands much from the senses, the two stand side-by-side but there is no second glance. There are a few things about Dad that cannot be moved, and as Caitlyn nudges him on behalf of her mom about a trip to Italy, the likely outcome is a trip to nowhere.
Regina Aquino gracefully transports with mannerisms that alter as her character ages over the nine years the story takes place. Subtle costume changes by Brandee Mathias aid the transformation, very simple but suggestive of the passing of time. David Bryan Jackson is convincing as the father who cannot be moved. The discounting nods of nonrecognition seem familiarly judgmental, though you do feel sorry for this guy. It’s comforting to have the landmarks, the years these two travel through so clearly defined. It’s like having a moment in black to gather your thoughts before what comes next.
After observing the father and daughter’s relationship unfold through the course of the play, a misattributed Albert Einstein quote comes to mind: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Birds of North America is a gentle reminder to seize the day for yourself and those you love.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Birds of North America plays through November 21, 2021, at Mosaic Theater Company performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, Washington DC. For tickets ($50–$68), call 202.738.9491 or purchase them online.
A “Video On Demand” streaming option is available for purchase ($40 individual, $70 group) through December 5, 2021, at mosaictheater.org/birds-of-na. Once you press “play,” you’ll have 72 hours to enjoy the performance. In that time you can pause, rewind, and even watch the show again. Closed captions are available for all video productions.
Please find more information in the press release below. The video on demand is available on our website: https://mosaictheater.org/
All patrons, actors, and staff must comply with Mosaic Theater Company and Atlas Performing Arts Center’s policies and protocols for COVID-19 safety.
Birds of North America
Written by Anna Ouyang Moench
Directed by Serge Seiden
Caitlyn: Regina Aquino
John: David Bryan Jackson
Set Designer: Alexa Ross
Lighting Designer: Brittany Shemuga
Costume Designer: Brandee Mathies
Sound Designer: David Lamont Wilson
Properties Designer: Deborah Thomas
Stage Manager: Samantha Wilhelm