Birds of North America – Review by Tom Holehan

It’s a bittersweet double-bill of drama now on the menu at Ridgefield’s Thrown Stone, the risk-taking theatre company currently in its third season and devoted to producing new and reimagined works. The theatre presented the Connecticut premiere of Molly Smith Metzler’s “Cry It Out” last week and has now added the East Coast Premiere of Anna Moench’s “Birds of North America” in rotating repertoire with the Metzler play. The dramas share similar themes of family and the unspoken tensions that often lie underneath.
A father and daughter, who may have more in common than they are willing to admit, duel over a twelve year period in “Birds of North America”, an often moving drama that explores the tenuous bonds that join and separate us. Caitlin (Melisa Breiner-Sanders) is a bit of a lost soul still trying to find her way in the world. She enjoys birdwatching with her dad, John (J.R. Sullivan), a retiree and diehard liberal who spars with Caitlin over her choice to work with anti-climate corporations. Theirs is a relationship seemingly and constantly on edge waiting for something to happen.

Director Jason Pecks allows us to see and feel the tension underneath a relationship which reveals itself slowly as perceived slights and unspoken history percolate just below the surface. The play’s best moment comes midpoint when Caitlin reveals a recent miscarriage. The writing and acting here is at its strongest with Breiner-Sanders doing exemplary work without overplaying the emotional aspects of what she is saying. Equally good is Mr. Sullivan who demonstrates an actor’s masterclass about how to truly listen on stage. “Birds of North America” rarely reaches that emotional peak again and it is followed by scenes that tend to meander and repeat themselves once it hits the 70-minute mark.
Fufan Zhang’s backyard setting, that served “Cry It Out” quite well, is also utilized for this play with minor adjustments. Lydia Strong’s poetic lighting establishes the changing years and Mr. Peck’s sound design truly impresses with an array of different and distinct bird sounds. Costumer Brenda Phelps probably could have done less with the numerous changes she’s given the two actors which might have cut down on the significant amount of time taken between scenes.

In all, however, Thrown Stone Theatre deserves credit for providing a forum for works like “Cry It Out” and “Birds of North America”. These are plays that serve as a tonic for all the summer musical revivals that flood our stages this time of year. Good for them.

“Cry It Out” continues at Thrown Stone Theatre Company through July 28 and “Birds of North America” plays through August 3. For further information or ticket reservations call: (203) 442-1714 or visit: www.thrownstone.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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