by Mara Katrina Capati
“Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element”
A cloudy afternoon sky and the peaceful whispers of the surrounding wildlife at the Valley of the Moon, paints a stunning, immersive backdrop for Winding Road’s production of “Bird’s of North America.” Playwright, Anna Ouyang Moench orchestrates a dance of intention and expression between a father and daughter who struggle finding common ground over the course of 10 years, in anything except their shared appreciation for bird watching. Pardon, “birding,” as a steady husband and father, John would correct me. The tension is palpable as Caitlyn is faced with the ever evolving challenges of young womanhood including navigating new relationships, struggling to complete passion projects, finding meaningful work in the job market, and fertility health disappointments.
John has his fair share of his own troubles. His wife is a doctor and the family unit’s primary financial provider. Over the years, John and Caitlyn’s individual stances become more apparent. The journey of individuality, growth, and companionship between John and Caitlyn is certain to invoke a tear or two. This story is not of our own, yet emits such a strong sense of nostalgia that you can’t quite place, but is seeded somewhere deep inside, recalling a time when we too, felt so moved to reactionary extremes because of the words or actions of a loved one, who at times we couldn’t be more infuriated with, but all the more, loved with equal ferocity.
Director, Maria Caprile brings to life isolated moments of authentic intimacy and conflict between our main characters, outdoors, in the beautiful Valley of the Moon. Technical elements and actor delivery had no barriers in this outdoor venue; you could hear every sound and line, clear as day. Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element” within the confines of each scene. Main characters, John and Caitlyn, always attempt to meet each other on mutual ground. The ease and serenity of the delivery of these actors in this location is irrefutably “something else.” Caprile isolates these scenes in a way that truly pulls you into the urgency of each conversation in the “now.” As each scene passes and time progresses in their relationship, the audience is left asking, “What is going on in either John or Caitlyn’s life now?” And the actors take their time. Oh, do they take their time, setting up the “tone of the year” at the beginning of each scene. You know to be patient, as it won’t be too long before one of them finally caves in and initiates the dance, once again. Timing is of the essence in delivery here and it is incredibly believable and effective. Caprile visually transports the audience into what almost feels like an otherworldly place, isolated and safe from the rest of reality. When John and Caitlyn come together for “birding”, it quite literally feels like time stops. Every word hangs in the air and every unanswered question from John or Caitlyn, lingers with an essence of immortality; whispered out into the vast mountains that they are constantly looking to for solace and answers. The characters leave and reenter this space, over and over again, almost as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. The only exception, the birds. John and Caitlyn are staged to mirror and counterbalance each other seamlessly, as we see them weave naturally from the roles of conversationalist, to observer, to muse, to offense, to defense, but always back to the birdwatcher. Caprile takes, what for some, are the most uncomfortable conversations we will ever have, and makes the unpalatable something that audiences can digest in earnest. Set in an open and peaceful space.
Tony Caprile’s performance as John was steady and consistent, relying on the subtlest of choices to indicate the true turmoil going on underneath the strong face he puts on for his daughter and wife. He’s portrayed as a lovable, quirky, but hard-headed father who manages to maintain his charm from start to finish. Erin Amsler ‘s interpretation of Caitlyn is one that takes on the challenging task of setting the foundation for who Caitlyn is and developing her character over time by what is unfortunately driven primarily by negative life changing events, dissatisfaction, and complacency in her current circumstances. Her tone and view slowly evolves from a headstrong woman not yet, too scorn, to a woman, old for her years, who understands to well the strong disconnect from the life we dream of and have always wanted, to the hand that we’re dealt with and needing to make the most out of it in order to survive. Erin delivers a strong performance and counterpart to Tony’s, John, that immerses the audience in the heartfelt dance between this father and daughter. You truly feel the love, frustration, anger, and hope between these too dedicated characters from start to finish.
As a young woman myself, I can fondly recall the many conversations I’ve had with my father as a child, a teen, a twenty something, and soon to be thirty something. After seeing this production, I couldn’t help but feel the need to hug my father and mother just a little bit tighter the next time I see them.. At the core of who we are and the validation we want as human beings, we really aren’t as different as we’d like to think. This production will move it’s audiences to truly consider where people can have empathy for each other and find mutual ground, regardless of where they are in life and what they believe. Sometimes blood and love is all that you have in common with a person and maybe a mutual love of birds. This play asks if that is that enough.
I highly recommend patrons who have not yet attended this thought-provoking production, see it this upcoming weekend November 20th and November 21st at 2pm at the Valley of the Moon. Tickets are $25 a person and can be purchased online at http://www.windingroadtheater.org or contact the Box Office at (520) 401-3626. Masks are required for viewing.