MOXIE Starts Theatre Year with the San Diego Premiere of Birds of North America

A Play with just two actors and a moving delivery 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Mike Sears and Farah Dinga. Photo MOXIE Theatre
MOXIE starts the theatre year with the San Diego premiere of Anna Ouyang Moench's play, Birds of North America bringing yet again, a gorgeous set design by Robin Sanford Roberts consisting of a backyard full of trees and a picnic table with its benches creating a vibrant, alive look for this father/daughter story with various layers.
John (Mike Sears) is a retired chemist that loves bird watching and is an expert at it. A hobby that he shares with his daughter Caitlyn (Farah Dinga) who is 25 and works as an editor for a conservative website that John hates. He is a creature of habit, a nature lover, and very into his ways. 

The story is a one-act with no intermission that develops in the backyard while they compare notes on the birds they see. In the beginning, Caitlyn talks about her boyfriend who soon becomes her husband and they start having infertility problems. Caitlyn shares with her dad the frustration with every miscarriage to which he does not seem that empathetic. Farah Dinga is raw, going through the motions and delivering a truly deep feel that brought audience members to tears, including me. With that, I thought the play was going to be about infertility but no, different plots kept developing as time passed. 

There is a note about the play that says the story goes through 10 years but, even though you could tell time was passing, it was not that clear. What does become clear is who John is. A man in his own world and sort of selfish. He retired to work on a vaccine that does not go through. All that time, his wife who is a doctor is the one that supports the family financially. Farah has a brother and he also gets married. When his wife gets pregnant, John gushes to Caitlyn about how she is going to be an aunt, totally ignoring the history, and the unconscious jabs are not just with her struggling to be a mom, it is with her job, her career choice, basically nitpicking the whole time in a passive-aggressive way. Still, Caitlyn loves her dad, and after putting him in check a couple of times and giving him a heavy read, Caitlyn stops the bird-watching and visiting him. By this point, more years have passed, and she has been divorced for a while, has gone back home to live with her parents, moved out, and now has a new partner that has a daughter. 

Farah Dinga. Photo MOXIE Theatre
In a blink of an eye, Caitlyn's mom is sick with cancer and in a second blink, John has passed away, we see Caitlyn reminiscing in the backyard as she is stating that she has to sell the family home to put the stepdaughter through college... for me, the piece was very moving and pacing normally and suddenly all these things start pilling up to then be over. It felt like the playwright could not resolve it fully so she kept adding stuff and it ends up being confusing yet, leaving you gasping at the same time because the emotional abuse or "check out" from the dad is real. Truly, John is checked out in general, not just with his daughter. Mike Sears is also amazing in this role. It shows he becomes semi-aware of how he has hurt his daughter towards the end of the play, and he breaks down. Heartfelt, organic, beautiful.

Lisa Berger´s direction shines. It is tender, showing care for the story, and carrying it through great portrayals. Not an easy job with one set, two actors, and with the plots being added one after the next, Berger landed the piece well. Mike Sears does not have many wardrobe changes, a hat, and a vest here and there. Farah changes jackets and tops in almost every scene taking clothes from different places in the yard like a pot or a trash can. I appreciated that well-done sequence along with Danita Lee's costume design and Joshua Heming's lighting design, both guiding us through the days, and years passing.

Matt Lescault-Wood's sound design is marvelous, white noise-esque. The sound effects of the different types of birds are soothing and varied. A true joy. 

Birds of North America reflects on a father-daughter relationship that apparently is not fractured, showing us the different vices carried across generations. It would have been great if it had focused on how that bond could be repaired versus killing the character. 

What Anna Ouyang Moench did mix nicely into the story was the different species of birds, their migration route, and how the world has affected them changing everything, bringing awareness, and also educating. MOXIE is hosting different pre and post-show discussions with organizations across the county to expand the conversation which is fantastic. 

That is my take, go find out what yours is. Currently playing until February 26.
UPDATE: A matinee has been added for Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 p.m.

$15 RUSH tickets are available online and at the Box Office 1 hour before each performance.
Hardship tickets are also available upon request meaning, pay what you can. 

The remaining discussions scheduled are :

Feb 16: Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Feb 17 & Feb 19: San Diego Humane Society

Mar 2: Tree San Diego

For more information please click HERE.

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