Mosaic Theater stages ‘Birds of North America’ about family, climate change

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Birds of North America' (Part 1)

Don’t you dare say call it “bird watching.” The correct term is “birding.”

That’s one of many things you’ll learn from Mosaic Theater’s new play “Birds of North America,” running through Nov. 21 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street Northeast.

“If you’re [talking to] the birding community, you’ll be corrected,” director Serge Seiden told WTOP. That actually happens in the play too, which is kind of fun.”

Before the show opened, Seiden took the cast and crew to learn the specifics.

“The cast, stage management crew, designers and I went out … to the Botanical Gardens here in D.C. and had an amazing time learning about birding,” Seiden said. “That really inspired the cast. There are nine birds that get observed during the play. We learned all about their calls, what they looked like, how to identify them, their migratory patterns.”

Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench uses birding as an excuse for a father and daughter to bond as they gaze through binoculars but struggle to see and hear each other.

“It shows the way relationships evolve over time, the ups and downs of a family, the love and longing to communicate when a father and daughter don’t always see eye to eye,” Seiden said. “This play takes place between 2012 and the present and a little in the future. You can imagine what the conversations are like when politics have become so polarized.”

Actors Regina Aquino and David Bryan Jackson convey a nine-year span in 90 minutes. Seiden said of Aquino, “we had to adjust her costumes, voice, mannerisms. … You will be amazed as you watch her transform over the course of the play.”

Underlying it all is an urgent warning about climate change.

“[The playwright] brings it into the conversation in a natural way,” Seiden said. “It’s not didactic or preachy in any way. It’s really just trying to surface these feelings that we all share when we go outside. It’s almost November and we’ve had a lot of warm days. … Climate is impacting all of us and we need to start talking about it in a personal way.”

Fittingly, nature is the backdrop, as scenic designer Alexa Ross shows fall leaves.

“If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s a very high-resolution photo of a bird’s wing in the colors of the fall,” Seiden said. “In front of this beautiful backdrop there is … a suburban, slightly non-realistic picket fence that kind of has the feeling of a bird’s span of wings.”

The show marks Mosaic’s return to live theater after an 18-month pandemic hiatus as proof of vaccination is required to enter the building and masks are required throughout the show.

“Last night was the very first performance that Mosaic’s had since early March 2020,” Seiden said. “The Atlas Performing Arts Center is doing a great job welcoming audiences back safely. They have a new state-of-the-art air filtration and circulation system. … I think people feel ready to come back and they appreciate the safety precautions put in place.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Birds of North America' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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