STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Many birds of North America are present, though only in their calls for the audience.
Two birders in the story see the birds… and hear them.
Please, use the term “birder,” not “bird watcher.”
Huh, sniff, “bird watcher” lacks the qualities of precision, perfection, passion, purity, purpose, profundity and power of “birder.”
Now you have an inkling of what one of the two characters in the play “Birds of North America” is like on the wings of words.
Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench seems deliberately painful in devising the persistence of the father. Any humor is darkly ironic. And dear ol’ dad has a problem with taking a joke, too.
The father is a birder. So is his daughter.
The two commune through time while birding outside the family home in rural Maryland.
The audience learns a laundry list – or life list – of bird species spotted during their moments together.
The audience learns a whole lot more, often with blunt directness.
“Birds of North America” is about… hmmmmm… so much in its cross patterns of metaphors. It is of the present, darkly.
The father, portrayed by C. Michael Wright, has the air of an expert on most everything. He spews information like Wikipedia on the hoof, though with an agenda attached.
His adult daughter, portrayed by Dekyi Rongé, knows her father’s field of play and mostly abides by his knowledge-stuffed opinions.
Director Jacob Janssen and his artist collaborators (to use a metaphor) paint a professional landscape in their detailing.
Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench, being in control, unleashes their conversations at speeds other than from reality. This is a play. She gets to do that.
Anna Ouyang Moench also considers platters full of hot potatoes. Some are climate change, environmental decay, oil and gas use and general decline of society – all hell-bent due to lack of action in the view of the father.
“There used to be so much more of everything,” the father laments.
Some hot potatoes are personal – father-daughter sensitivities. They deal with the daughter’s situation over time – a major one being her dealing with miscarriages. The father has opinions about that, too. The daughter’s job in marketing – with which she is comfortable – is akin to bedding with the devil to the father.
One hot potato is silly. The father knows how to fix soccer, and professional basketball and hockey: Make scoring easier, or with basketball, harder. Mr. Fixit’s vista is unending.
Sunday’s matinee performance started with an aura of artifice in the performance. But rhythm came, and C. Michael Wright and Dekyi Rongé poured on the feistiness of the dense material.
There is a lot of give-and-take in the characters, and the players dish that out expertly. C. Michael Wright has a certain intensity in the father’s sure-firedness.
This and that:
+ Music sets moods. That starts with an atmospheric electronic creation of long notes of an indefinite feel. Scene-change music becomes more defining of the definite feelings being expressed.
+ The set is spare – chairs and a table as found in a grassy yard with a tree. The grass is artificial (and can be bought), and the substantial tree is artificial (and had to be hand made). Autumn-colored leaves (artificial) play a role.
+ The play is political/apolitical. The father is all-opinion almost all the time. One of his insults to his daughter is, “So what are your politics?”
+ Back stories add to the interest – the stuff of family messes, failings exposed and disappointments come to roost.
+ Third Avenue PlayWorks, in displays in a lobby alcove, adds a real-life presence for the “birds” element of the play title. Photos and more tell about Open Door Bird Sanctuary near Jacksonport. The organization’s website says, “We are a 34-acre sanctuary that provides homes for un-releasable birds of prey. They become incredible ambassadors of the environment and work with us to inspire and educate the public both at the sanctuary and at many other locations.”
Running time: 86 minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: To Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Creative: Playwright – Anna Ouyang Moench; director – Jacob Janssen; assistant director – Doug Clemens; lighting designer – Colin Gawronski; sound designer – Brian Grimm; company manager – Dan Klarer; costume designer – Karin Simonson Kopischke; scenic designer – Madelyn Yee; production stage manager – Kelsey Brennan York; managing director – Amy Frank; artistic director – Jacob Janssen
Caitlyn – Dekyi Rongé
John – C. Michael Wright
NEXT: “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” by Joe Landry, Dec. 11-31.
THE VENUE: Third Avenue PlayWorks, which includes the Steve and Jackie Kane Theatre, is located at 239 N. 3rd Ave. in downtown Sturgeon Bay. The building is the greatly renovated former Third Avenue Playhouse and Studio Theatre. The new building is up to the standards of what is expected of a small theater. The origins of Third Avenue Playhouse date to 1999. The playhouse previously was a movie theater, the Donna, which opened Nov. 25, 1958. The new auditorium is a “black box” theater at heart – black stage curtains, black walls (mostly), black ceiling – with all new theatrical support elements. On either side of the stage, walls are exposed to brick-and-stone work of original buildings – a historical touch. Architectural style? Black Box Cleaned Up does the trick. A gray, linear-patterned rug leads from the lobby into the auditorium. Seating for 144 is in eight rows on an inclined seating area, with red handrails for the steps and slopes on the sides. Seats are gray plastic structure in legs, back and arms, with seating area of red fabric. The performers use their natural voices with no assist of wireless headset amplification. The lobby areas – multiple spaces with storefront-type windows facing the street – are a blend of art gallery and loft (some exposed beams and ventilation pipes) in aura. One gathering space at present features historical photographs of the downtown. The space near the theater entrance includes photographs from selected previous productions. A concession stand has opened. Restroom facilities are greatly improved.