Friday, February 24, 2023

Design Elements Provide the Perfect Ambience for Moxie Theatre’s Birds of North America

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. 


Mike Sears as the father and Farah Dinga as the daughter in Birds of North America, with scenic design by Robin Sanford Roberts and lighting by Joshua Heming. (Photo: Moxie Theatre)

One of the definitions of moxie is “force of character” and Moxie Theatre, a 99-seat venue on El Cajon Boulevard, has had that on display for almost two decades.

Moxie started its award-filled existence with a team of gifted, forward-thinking women: Executive Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and co-founders Jo Anne Glover, Liv Kellgren and Jennifer Thorn. Their mission: to seek out and present more diverse images of women and offer greater opportunities for women to act, write and direct shows that would get audiences thinking, talking, and coming back for more.

Birds of North America, now onstage through March 5, is a great example of what Moxie can do. Billed as “a play about fathers, daughters, and what we choose to see,” it’s really a brilliantly acted two-hander that uses backyard birding as the main bond between one often off-putting father and his daughter, who keeps trying to close the distances between them. They have some heavy conversations, interspersed with flashes of humor, as they do their birdwatching during her autumnal visits over many years. We, the audience, only hear the birds, never see them, but we can’t take our eyes or our ears off the two humans onstage.

I can’t remember the last time I saw actors so completely inhabit their characters. These are not bravura performances but thoughtful, committed ones. Their words and reactions to each other are so believable that I could feel the whole audience’s involvement, along with my own.

In fact, Mike Sears originated the role of John, the father, in the Wagner New Play Festival at La Jolla Playhouse in 2017, so he’s got all John’s nuances down. And Farah Dinga, an actor/playwright trained at UC San Diego, is with him every step of the way as his daughter Caitlyn.

Farah Dinga, in a solo moment, beautifully lit. (Photo: Moxie Theatre)

A big help in creating the mood of the play is the autumnal setting, with scenic design by Robin Sanford Roberts (@mzrobin on Instagram—so apropos!). She studied architecture before going on to an MFA in Theatrical Set Design at UCSD and designing numerous productions from then on, receiving a Tony nomination for her work on the Broadway show It Ain’t Nothin But the Blues. Her trees seem far more than two- dimensional, and the evocative lighting by Joshua Heming, an MFA student at SDSU, makes the setting glow.

There isn’t exactly a happy ending, but you’ll surely be happy if you get to see this show while it’s still here. It’s the next-to-last one under the leadership of Jennifer Thorn, the last of Moxie’s original founding foursome, who has been Executive Artistic Director since 2017 and is now moving on.

In line with the times, Moxie is currently searching for a new woman+ director. Hopefully, they’ll keep moving forward, as they’ve been doing since 2005. Long may they wave!

In honor of the Birds production, Moxie and the San Diego Audubon Society co-sponsored a contest, asking for personal short stories and photos on the topic “How I Fell for Birds.” Photos and stories are on display in the lobby. 

The Winning Photo: City Bird. (Photo: Holly Hilliard)

An SDVAN Extra:  Toni Robin—another Robin!—won one of the Honorable Mentions, but only her story is here on display. Best known as a great disseminator of Art & Culture PR, she sent us her photo so you can see for yourself.  

A Robin is a Reluctant Birder.  (Photo: Toni Robin)

Written by Anna Ouyang Moench
Directed by Lisa Berger
At Moxie Theatre through March 5.
6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N
San Diego, CA 92115

Only four more performances: Feb. 28-March 5.
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.  Friday & Saturday: 8 p.m. (Masks recommended, but not required.) Masked Matinee Sunday, March 5, 2 p.m.
Tickets & info: (858) 598-7620 or

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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