STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Many North American birds are present, but only in their public calls.
Two ornithologists in the story see the birds…and hear them.
Please use the term “bird watcher” not “bird watcher”.
Huh, sniff, “bird watcher” lacks the qualities of precision, perfection, passion, purity, purpose, depth and power of “birder”.
Now you have an idea of what one of the two characters from the play “Birds of North America” looks like on the wings of the words.
Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench seems deliberately painful as she imagines the persistence of the father. All humor is darkly ironic. And dear old dad also has a hard time accepting a joke.
The father is an ornithologist. So is his daughter.
The two commune through time while birdwatching outside the family home in rural Maryland.
The audience learns a laundry list – or life list – of bird species spotted during their moments together.
Audiences learn much more, often with brutal candor.
“Birds of North America” is about…hmmmmm…so much in its cross-patterns of metaphors. It’s present, dark.
The father, played by C. Michael Wright, seems like an expert on almost everything. It spits information like Wikipedia on the clog, but with an agenda attached.
His adult daughter, played by Dekyi Rongé, knows her father’s playground and mostly respects his knowledge-packed opinions.
Director Jacob Janssen and his artistic collaborators (to use a metaphor) paint a professional landscape in their detail.
Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench, being in charge, unleashes their conversations at speeds other than those of reality. This is a play. She manages to do that.
Anna Ouyang Moench also considers trays full of hot potatoes. Some are climate change, environmental degradation, oil and gas use, and general societal decline – all inflexible due to lack of action in the father’s opinion.
“Before, there was so much more of everything,” laments the father.
Some hot potatoes are personal – father-daughter sensibilities. They deal with the girl’s situation over time – one of the most important being her dealing with the miscarriages. The father also has opinions on this. The daughter’s job in marketing – which she is comfortable with – is akin to sleeping with the devil in the father.
A hot potato is silly. The father knows how to fix professional football, basketball and hockey: make scoring easier, or with basketball, harder. Mr. Fixit’s view is endless.
Sunday’s matinee performance began with an aura of artifice in the performance. But the rhythm came, and C. Michael Wright and Dekyi Rongé poured out the ardor of the dense material.
There are a lot of give and take between characters, and players do it expertly. C. Michael Wright has a certain intensity in the infallibility of the father.
This and that:
+ Music creates moods. It begins with an atmospheric electronic creation of long notes of indefinite feel. Scene change music becomes more determinative of the definite feelings being expressed.
+ The set is spare – chairs and a table found in a grassy yard with a tree. The grass is artificial (and can be purchased), and the substantial tree is artificial (and had to be handcrafted). Fall-colored (artificial) leaves play a role.
+ The play is political/apolitical. The father is almost always opinionated. One of his insults to his daughter is, “So what’s your policy?”
+ Back stories add interest – family messes, exposed failures and disappointments roost.
+ Third Avenue PlayWorks, in displays in a lobby alcove, adds real presence to the “birds” element of the play’s title. Photos and more speak of the Open Door Bird Sanctuary near Jacksonport. The organization’s website states, “We are a 34-acre sanctuary that provides homes for non-released birds of prey. They become incredible environmental ambassadors and work with us to inspire and educate the public both at the sanctuary and in many other places.
Operating time: 86 minutes (without intermission)
Remaining performances: Until Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday
Creative: Playwright – Anna Ouyang Moench; director – Jacob Janssen; assistant manager – Doug Clemens; lighting designer – Colin Gawronski; sound designer – Brian Grimm; business leader – Dan Klarer; costume designer – Karin Simonson Kopischke; set designer – Madelyn Yee; production manager – Kelsey Brennan York; general manager – Amy Frank; artistic director – Jacob Janssen
Caitlyn – Dekyi Ronge
John–C. Michael Wright
NEXT: “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” by Joe Landry, December 11-31.
THE PLACE: Third Avenue PlayWorks, which includes the Steve and Jackie Kane Theater, is located at 239 N. 3rd Ave. in downtown Sturgeon Bay. The building is the completely remodeled former Third Avenue Theater and Theater Studio. The new building lives up to what is expected of a small theatre. Third Avenue Playhouse’s origins date back to 1999. The performance hall was previously a movie theater, the Donna, which opened on November 25, 1958. The new auditorium is a “black box” theater at heart – curtains black stage, black walls (mostly), black ceiling – with all new theatrical support elements. On either side of the stage, the walls are exposed with the brick and stone work of the original buildings – a historic touch. Architectural style? Black Box Cleaned Up does the trick. A linear patterned gray carpet leads from the lobby to the auditorium. Seating for 144 people is arranged in eight rows on a sloped seating area, with red handrails for the steps and slopes on the sides. The seats are a gray plastic structure in the legs, back and arms, with a red fabric seating area. Performers use their natural voice without the aid of wireless headphone amplification. The lobby areas — several spaces with storefront-like windows facing the street — are an aura-like mix of art gallery and loft (some exposed beams and ventilation pipes). A gathering space currently features historic photographs of downtown. The space near the theater entrance includes photographs from selected previous productions. A concession stand has opened. Sanitary facilities are greatly improved.