By Rick Woelfel
Sycamore Hill offers a unique setting for a dramatic performance. Running through September 14 however, the outdoor venue, located in Pottstown will be the setting for Birds of North America, a story of the evolution of a relationship between a father and his adult daughter.
The play made its debut on September 4 and closes on September 14. It’s the latest production of Theater With a View, which has taken on the mission of bringing quality theater to the community.
The company has been staging a play at the Sycamore Hill venue each year since 2014. Nina Covalesky is the company’s founder, executive director, and chief advocate. The North Jersey native resides in New York and maintains a full-time career with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
But Covalesky, who is one of 10 siblings, also has a passion for the creative arts. Her company, Theater With a View, is committed to staging contemporary plays in non-traditional settings.
After seeing a play performed on the grounds of an estate on Vermont, Covalesky was intrigued by the idea of staging a play herself in a similar venue. She noted that the setting produced a feeling of intimacy.
“It sort of cut down the distance between audience and performers that I think can happen in larger theaters,” she said.
The Sycamore Hill venue proved to be a natural fit for Covalesky’s ambitions; one of her sisters owns the property and the home that sits on it, and Covalesky herself visits the site periodically for family gatherings. She staged her first play there, Proof in the summer of 2014.
“I believe we only did three performances but it was one of the most fulfilling things I’d ever done as a performer, and a human,” Covalesky said.
Theater With a View has staged plays at the Sycamore Hill venue each summer since then, including two shows last year.
This will be the first year Covalesky is not performing herself; she’s focusing on other duties, such as fundraising. Paid admissions cover roughly half the company’s expenses, the rest must be raised through donations.
This year’s production, Birds of North America is the work of Anna Moench and is set in Baltimore County, Maryland and features a father an avid birder (portrayed by Will W. Warren), and his daughter, (Lena Hudson) who is developing an interest in the subject. They are on the only characters in the play.
Director Jessica O’Hara-Baker notes that the pairs’ mutual hobby becomes their point of connection.
“It’s sort of about all the ways they kind of miss each other,” she said, “which is really a sad thing but birding is this sort of hopeful thing in their lives that brings them together and I think that’s a very sort of real journey for parent-child relationships … You have these glimmers of hope where they’re doing it, they’re making progress and then they fall down and have to dust themselves off over the course of a decade.”
Fittingly enough, for a play that focuses on birding, an abundance of birds populate the Sycamore Hill site. There are, by actual count, at least 15 bird houses on the property.
“It’s so gorgeous here,” Covalesky says. “It’s not hard to inspire the actors to take in what’s around them, as opposed to being in a dark theatre where they have to build all of that.”
BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA will run through September 14, 2019, Wednesday through Saturday at 7 PM, and Sunday at 6 PM at Sycamore Hill, 481 Ebelhare Road, Pottstown, PA. Tickets are $30 to reserve a seat, $20 for students. For more information, or to book tickets, visit theaterwithaview.com.
On Saturday, September 7 at 6pm, a representative of the John James Audubon Center will be on hand with Oden, a 10-year old horned owl, who people will be able to meet before the 7p.m. show.