‘Bird of North America’ is a bird’s eye view of family relationships

J.R. Sullivan and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders in “Birds of North America” by Anna Moench.

J.R. Sullivan and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders in “Birds of North America” by Anna Moench.

Bryan Haeffele/ Hearst Connecticut Media

Thrown Stone Theatre, Ridgefield: “Birds of North America” by Anna Moench and insightfully directed by Jason Peck puts a father/daughter relationship under a microscope to reveal the complexities that both face in their lives.

This is a play that not only takes a bird’s eye view of familial relationships, but is hawkish about our environment. It is a play for all generations intelligently crafted with equal amounts of rational and emotional responses.

John, played by J.R. Sullivan, is a man of medicine who has been trying to make it big by creating a new drug to cure disease and promote healthier lives. His 30 year-old daughter Caitlin, played by Mélisa Breiner-Sanders, joins her father in his bird-watching hobby. At first she really doesn’t show much interest, but when she sees how much her father cares for tracking and recording the patterns of these birds, she eventually gets involved.

What works so well for this play is that the patterns of the birds are not the only patterns that are revealed across a decade of autumns. This father and daughter relationship has conflict since the father is a diehard environmentalist and his daughter is a copy editor for a major conservative publication. Climate change as well bird migration is well documented in John’s journal. He sees his daughter’s concern for earning money a priority over what should be her moral responsibility.

Other personal patterns are also revealed such as when Caitlin has her fourth miscarriage and her father considers it a natural occurrence and doesn’t understand why Caitlin takes it so badly. Patterns regarding marriages and family issues as well as serious health issues also come into play in this touching production. In addition there are issues of dealing with failure.

Also working extremely well is the migration of birds. When Jason Peck’s sound design realistically reproduces a huge flock of birds migrating south, father and daughter pull up their binoculars, but I couldn’t help but lean in to the stage to look for the birds too. That is how convincing the scene is.

What doesn’t work so well is that even though the play is only 90-minutes long, it seems much longer. The pace is slow and the plot is mostly depressing. Yes, bird watching requires patience and time, but play goers will be itching for the heavy sadness in this play to lift sooner than later.

Fufan Zhang’s set design is essentially the same as the set for “Cry It Out.” The swing is gone and there are more bird houses, which light up at night, but overall, it’s a big backyard with a tree, a step ladder, autumn leaves, and a tree stump. Brenda Phelps’ costumes are character appropriate and the actors do make some very fast costume changes and Lydia Strong’s lighting design is crucial to making the passage of time believable. This production runs through July 26. Box office: 203-442-1714

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.