Two new plays put fathers front and center. One, Birds of North America, presents a distant father-daughter relationship. The other, Almost Made, paints a vivid picture of a more shocking father-son relationship.
In both cases, the parental ties are fraught and Dad is essentially unknowable;. It’s more about the impact on the adult children of time spent together.
Birds of North America
I miss my dad, and seeing Birds of North America, by Anna Ouyang Moench, brought a specificity to the pain. The Odyssey’s latest beautifully captures the awkwardness, missed cues and lost opportunities of father-daughter communications.
John (Arye Gross) keeps a life list of birds he’s seen and a mental list of those he wishes he could, like the elusive barn owl. His daughter Caitlin (Jacqueline Misaye) must join him outside his Maryland home with binoculars and little green book whenever she wants to talk to him.
They are awkward together, she sensing his disapproval of her boyfriend, he unable to share how he feels about her possible infertility, neither going deep when significant disappointments occur in their respective lives. They bond only over petty things, like a shared dislike for Caitlin’s brother’s girlfriend Bethany.
Another in a spate of recent plays that span a long time, in this case a decade, Birds of North America builds its portrait of distance through togetherness. A secondary theme relates to politics and climate change. Dad calls Caitlin a “mercenary” for her job at a right-wing website; she accuses him of letting down her mother by refusing to vacation Italy. He observes climate change through birds: increasingly, there are only LBJs (little brown jobs) and migration patterns are becoming unpredictable.
An immersive soundscape, by Constandina J. Daros, supports the action. Direction, by Peter Richards, reinforces the underlying sadness through the passage of time.
Birds of North America runs through Nov. 19 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. in West Los Angeles. Show times are Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm, Mondays at 9:00pm (Oct. 15 and 20 only) and three “wine night” Friday performances at 8:00 on Sept. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 20 (complimentary wine and snacks after the show) Tickets are $25-40 except on Mondays, which are pay-what-you-will. They can be purchased at OdysseyTheatre.com.
Elton John and Bruce Springsteen precede the appearance of Louie Liberti, sharing tales of his criminal father Charlie. He’s all over the stage: here as a six-year-old in Queens, here at his father’s hospital bedside, here as a teenager at his father’s Mr. L nightclub in Yonkers, here giving a eulogy. He almost wears himself out with physical exertion and emotional investment in a father who consistently let him down.
It’s a scattered story that leaves a lot of questions unanswered: a “calculating” sister isn’t fully explained. A mother clearly offers love and encouragement, but ultimately what happens to her is unclear. Even the main subject, Charlie, is painted in spatters with some key empty spaces.
In a revealing early line, Liberti says the dad he so admired as a child “almost made me who I am today.” He had to overcome nightmares about his father’s potential demise at the hands of the mobsters he answered to but wasn’t completely part of. (With a Jewish mother, Charlie was considered a “pizza bagel,” not completely trustworthy by the Mob.)
There’s a lot to enjoy, including many laugh-out-loud lines. Liberti himself is endearing and talented. Under Richard Israel’s direction, he may even exorcise a very important demon.
Almost Made runs through Oct. 26 at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Show times are Thursdays at 7:30. Tickets are $25 and are available here.