Birds of North America Review – LBJ Grows Up

Arye Gross and Jacqueline Misaye in BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - Photo by Jenny Graham
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Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench takes a turn at birds to highlight a father-daughter relationship which has gone awry. And so BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA was born. The 2016 winner of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) new play competition, Moench’s play premiered in Denver, Colorado, in May 2017 to excellent reviews.

Jacqueline Misaye and Arye Gross – Photo by Jenny Graham

When veteran birder John (Arye Gross) takes novice daughter Caitlyn (Jacqueline Misaye) under his wing, lots more happens than the expansion of bird trivia to a fine art. Ever the rational scientist, John simply can’t understand what makes his daughter tick. That the two love each other is a given; that they dance to the same tune is definitely not the case. Despite sharing a moment in time, they just can’t seem to connect. Over the course of nine years, the pair get together in John’s Baltimore back yard to look for birds. Over the decade, Caitlyn has several failed relationships, makes chancy job changes, moves from one spot to another, has miscarriages, and – in John’s opinion – totally screws up her life in spades. Even her first bird spotting turns out to be an LBJ – John’s disdainful shorthand for a Little Brown Job, the perennial dull boring bird which seems to be everywhere and thus unworthy of attention. And perhaps his daughter is an LBJ who is struggling to be heard and accepted by her eternally logical father.

Jacqueline Misaye and Arye Gross – Photo by Jenny Graham

BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA is a compelling character study of two people who just can’t seem to communicate – made more poignant because they are father and daughter. This is a dark comedy where even funny lines have an undercurrent of pain. Director Peter Richards helms the two-hander with careful attention to the small details which add up to personality. Talented Gross and Misaye do an impeccable job of defining each member of the dyad with compassion, even as they sometimes seem to laugh rather than cry.

Jacqueline Misaye and Arye Gross – Photo by Jenny Graham

Mark Guirguis’ scenic design is simple yet evocative, punctuated by Scott Bolman’s effective lighting and Lena Sands’ costumes. Kudos to Costandina J. Daros’ sound, which brings all those feathered chirpers right onto the stage. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA is highly recommended for those intrigued by what makes people tick. In many ways, the show is also a wonderful example of acting at its finest. As such, novice actors might want to study how it’s done effectively. BIRDS OF NORTH is both entertaining and challenging. The play is also thought-provoking and will probably resonate with many in the audience who have had ambivalent family relationships. On the surface, not much happens. However, under the surface there is always a lot going on.

Arye Gross and Jacqueline Misaye – Photo by Jenny Graham

BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA runs through November 19, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $25 to $40 (Mondays Pay-What-You-Will starting at 5:30 p.m. at the door). For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or go online.

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