Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Birds of North America
Thrown Stone Theatre Company
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Tell Me I'm Not Crazy, On the Exhale and The Children


J. R. Sullivan and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders
Photo by Chuck Jennes
Thrown Stone Theatre Company is currently presenting a beautifully directed and acted production of Anna Moench's bittersweet play Birds of North America, making its East Coast premiere. This play features over a dozen scenes of a father and his adult daughter birdwatching in the backyard of the father's home. Although each scene takes place in the same location (over a period of more than a decade), the interactions between the characters range from happiness to heartbreak to even anger and cruelty.

The play stars J. R. Sullivan and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders, who are both absolutely superb. Birds of North America, as a whole, is like a collection of snapshots, documenting many significant moments in this father/daughter relationship. Jason Peck's direction is carefully modulated, making this a hypnotic and involving evening of theatre.

There is quite a bit of humor in this play, as father and daughter share good times in addition to the moments in which they disconnect. There is definite joy in the two characters being able to see a wide range of rare birds, which the father records in a small journal. But, of course, the play is about much more than just birdwatching. John is portrayed wonderfully by J. R. Sullivan, and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders is just as fine as John's daughter Caitlin. Without pushing too hard, and sometimes without really even noticing it, the outlines of this familiar relationship are gradually revealed, as the interactions between the two characters play themselves out.

Fufan Zhang's simple yet enchanting set design is just right for this show, with just a tree (with several bird houses hanging from it), a bench, and a swing onstage. Brenda Phelps' costumes skillfully help delineate the various vicissitudes between the two characters, as well as demonstrating that the play takes place over several years. The lighting design by Lydia Strong is perfect, and there is exceptional sound design by Jason Peck—the individual birds can be clearly heard throughout the show. Plus, during the many scene changes, one can hear the haunting original musical score, composed by Aidan Meacham.

Director Jason Peck allows the play to slowly insinuate itself with the audience throughout a ninety-minute running time. Both actors excel in their respective roles. Sullivan casts his character of John as being all-knowing and authoritative, though there are many times where one can see uncertainty beneath the surface. In an opposite way, Breiner-Sanders' Caitlyn seems to be on the receiving end of many of the characters' interactions, though she is stronger than she at first appears. With a wide range of emotions being presented, the audience can be laughing heartily at one scene and then only minutes later be gasping at just how deeply John and Caitlin can wound each other with words.

Birds of North America has a dreamlike quality, as the series of sequences wash over the audience. The relationship between father and daughter is not always smooth, but it rings true from beginning to end. It's quite remarkable to realize, when the lights come up at the conclusion of the show, just how much has actually occurred onstage as the two characters birdwatch. One of the gifts of Thrown Stone Theatre Company is the intimacy of the audience to the stage, which adds to effectiveness of this production.

Do see Birds of North America—and bring tissues.

Birds of North America, through August 3, 2019, at Thrown Stone Theatre Company, 440 Main St., Ridgefield CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.thrownstone.org or call the box office at 203-442-1714.


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