Thrown Stone launches 2019 theater season with family focused plays

In its third season, Thrown Stone presents two new plays dealing with issues close to home and the complicated relationships families have in the Connecticut premiere of “Cry It Out” by Molly Smith Metzler and the East Coast premiere of “Birds of North America” by Anna Moench, performing in repertory at Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance. “Cry It Out” runs July 11-28 and “Bird of North America runs July 18 through Aug. 3.

Both plays deal with identity, parenting and family but in different ways. Each is rich in nuance and truth with layers of meaning. While “Cry It Out” looks at the tough choices new parents face, “Birds of North America” follows a father and daughter’s relationship over the years.

“We’ve been wanting to do a season about family since we started. So much of Ridgefield is centered on family life, and as parents ourselves, we felt the #CloseToHome theme was ripe for conversation, ” said Jonathan Winn, founder and co-artistic director. “Both plays explore how we live with the ones we love the most — at two distinct life stages,” added founder and co-artistic director Jason Peck.

While highly personal, “Cry It Out” is not autobiographical but Smith Metzler experienced firsthand the world of her play. She and her husband were expecting their first child in 2012 when they moved from New York City to Port Washington on Long Island. Home with a newborn that first long winter there, her husband taking their only car to work, she faced quite an adjustment. “I could not believe no one had prepared me for the culture shock of having a child just how your identity is completely cracked open and everything you thought you knew about yourself is not true,” she said of her maternity leave. “I really wanted to write a play about the feelings I had because as I started to make mom friends, they were feeling the same things too, so I felt like it belonged on stage.”

The play is ripe with humor but addresses important issues. “There is absurdity with being home with a child and a lot to laugh about, but then coupled with that is you face a lot of decisions,” she said. “One thing I was not prepared for is these decisions, they are hugely affected by your finances. I always thought whether you go back to work or not was one that was about identity and how you see yourself but the fact is some people can’t afford not to go back to work.”

The play ends by posing a question (no spoilers here) and audiences attending past productions have walked out pondering that question, often engaging in vigorous debates.

Parenting is challenging at any age and Moench’s play centers on father-daughter birders as they watch birds over a decade with their relationship evolving. The play is highly metaphorical on multiple levels.

“The play is about birding, obviously, and so that is a big part of the play but additionally, I see these two characters as birds in their own way. They are working with each other and against each other,” Moench said. “I think about the ways birds in flight can be flying in sync at times and out of sync at times. Since families are so linked for so long, over time relationships change.”

The familial bond tested over time is also a metaphor for a larger story about climate change. “I was interested in writing a play about climate change for a long time, and I was not quite sure how to tackle the subject in a way that would not feel pedantic or be preaching to the choir,” Moench said, noting that many people feel an emotional connection with the natural world and what has already been lost due to climate change. “So by placing that feeling up against a relationship drama of a father-daughter relationship, and seeing how that changes over time, I felt like that started to get at the heart of what I had been trying to write about,” she said. “Placing these two characters on opposite sides of a widening rift between them both personally and also ideologically, that felt like the right story to tell.”

As Thrown Stone readies for its third season, it has sharpened its mission to focus on the work with a mission “to engage our region with new and reimagined theatre in intimate settings, creating a body of work that moves, connects and challenges all who join the conversation,” Winn said. As part of that, a “thrust stage” seating configuration debuts, featuring two rows surrounding the stage on three sides.

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