“Everything is true, except birds don’t talk,” says Marty Wayman, director of ActOut Theatre Group’s production of Mark Acito’s 2012 award-winning play, “Birds of a Feather.” Acito’s comedy about famous bird (and human) couples — and the nature of relationships — opens this weekend at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.
Roy and Silo, two of the play’s main characters, were just two male penguins living their regular lives in New York’s Central Park Zoo in the early 1990s when they were observed engaging in mating rituals and, later, pretending to hatch an “egg” that was just a rock.
When zoo officials decided to give them a real egg, the duo hatched a baby girl named Tango and became the poster birds for same-sex parenting.
“In the play, one of the penguins is not very happy about that,” Wayan says. “He didn’t want to be notorious or famous.”
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Their tale inspired a 2005 children’s book, “And Tango Makes Three,” which became one of the most banned books in the United States for its portrayal of same-sex parenting.
How do Roy and Silo adjust to their new life as parents? How does Tango affect their relationship?
These questions play out alongside other tales of aviary romance, specifically in the love story of Pale Male and Lola, a famous Central Park red-tailed hawk and his long-term mate, an unusual occurrence for red-tailed hawks.
“It’s a story of how their relationship works or almost doesn’t work,” Wayman says of the bird couples’ plights, which Wayman says offers relatable insights into the diverse spectrum of human relationships as well.
Speaking of humans, a fictionalized portrayal of journalist Paula Zahn makes an appearance when the hawks nest near her New York home. Following the plight of both the hawks and the penguins, Zahn’s marriage is imploding in view of the public eye.
Founding member of ActOut and secretary of the board Bill Chandler says the group tries to produce about one show per year that addresses themes relevant to the LGBT community, and that the play’s focus on same-sex parenting and the nature of relationships seemed particularly relevant.
“It just struck a chord with everybody on the board,” Chandler says of the play. “It’s a comedy, it’s contemporary, and it talks about gay parents raising children, so it was very poignant but also hit everybody’s funny bone.”
Chandler originally got the idea for ActOut Theatre 20 years ago when serving on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Service Organization (GLSO), which is now called the Pride Community Service Organization (PCSO).
Looking for unique fundraising ideas, Chandler pitched the idea of putting on a play, and Act Out Theatre was born, producing its first show, “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens: Stories from the Quilt,” in 1997.
In 2003, ActOut formed its own non-profit and continued to average one show per year, donating proceeds of its performances, which are produced by all volunteer cast and crew, to LGBT causes like PCSO and Moveable Feast.
“We want to educate the public as well as entertain the public at the same time on gay issues,” Chandler says.
“The profit that we make does go back into the community,” Chandler says. “Over the years we have put about $20,000 back into the gay community.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.