Anna Quyang Moench’s ‘Birds Of North America’ Take Nest At The Odyssey

“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

Anne Sexton

By Ernest Kearney  —  For a decade, each fall, the father John (Arye Gross) and his daughter Caitlyn (Jacqueline Misaye) spend time in the backyard of the family’s Maryland home bonding in that most serenely pensive pursuit of bird watching; referred to by enthusiasts as “birding.”

This is the framing device, concept and, for all intents and purposes, plot of Anna Quyang Moench’s sincere and honest Birds of North America now at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.

I suspect that the sense of earnestness that permeates this piece bespeaks of “Postcards from home;” meaning, that Moench has woven the tapestry of this drama with thread spun from personal experience. 

This would explain the work’s strengths and flaws.

The strength of Birds of North America is its depiction of a parent and child, and sad consequence that ensues when the relationship between them must be fought or begged for.

Between Caitlyn and her father, the battleground is set.  She is interning for a conservative TV network while trying to write her first novel. He is a left-leaning environmentalist working on a project to help save the world.

He is a fault-finder in his world, while she is still trying to “find” her world.

During their birding sessions, they find harmony on the pages of John’s “Life List,” the small book in which he notes down the dates and birds they’ve observed; the purpose of which he explains is to allow them “to see how things are changing.”

Moench skillfully presents the passing of years and the changing times between the father and daughter, displaying how their evolving worlds serve to push them farther apart.  Moench captures the pathos as their relationship undergoes divorce, miscarriages,, and death, events which should bring families together, but which, with Caitlyn and her father, as in many cases I suppose, only results in widening the divide between them.

Where the weakness of the piece lies, is in its straight-across narrative.  The play opens with a troubled relationship between two people who love each other but seem unable to express that love and this continues through to the very end. 

As a result, Misaye comes across as a tad too shrill, and unfortunately that “tad” suffices in straining the audience’s sympathy for her.  I affix this flaw to the writing and to a lesser extent the directing, rather than Misaye

Interestingly, perhaps the play’s finest moment is a solo scene when the father tries to fight through his fears and uncertainty to leave his daughter a phone message expressing his sorrow over their growing estrangement.  In a superlative performance, Gross is at his most superb in conveying an agony that must be recognizable to too many a parent.  

Both father and daughter are rigid, each entrenched in their own worlds, he has the sin of “mansplaining,” and she is unwilling to give him the benefit of his generation.  The hope for their relationship, for that matter the hope of the play, is in the joint pursuit of birding.  The only moments of connection between them, their only emotional armistices are found in their shared joy of bird watching.   They should fight for these moments, like drowning persons clutching at driftwood. 

Instead, both Director Peter Richards and the playwright have treated these occasions more as segues than salvation.  Thus we see two people battling each other, which is dramatic, rather than battling for each other which is both dramatic, inspiring and, for an audience far more engaging.

There is, nevertheless, a lyrical, haunting quality to Moench’s piece which, under Producer Beth Hogan’s oh-so deft hand, Richards well-orchestrates with the assistance of Scott Bolman’s moodful lighting, Mark Guirguis’ marvelous set and Sound Designer Constandina J. Daros’ captivating canopy of the birds chirping.  

Perhaps the success of Moench’s Birds of North America lies in its eloquently expressing the soulful lament that it is possible to have a father and yet never know one.


Birds of North America


The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Performance Information:
Pay-What-You-Can performances Monday, Nov. 13 & Wednesday, Nov. 15
Wine Night Fridays November 17 at 8pm

Reserve Pay-What-You-Can tickets
Every Saturday at 8pm
Every Sunday at 2pm
Monday, November 13 at 8pm
Wednesday, November 15 at 8pm
Friday, November 17 at 8pm


Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

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