Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between; whether you’re feathered or furry or fleshy, mating is a tricky business.
That is the premise of ActOut Theatre Group’s latest production, “Birds of a Feather” by Marc Acito, a comedic romp about the struggles and reward of relationship, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or, in this case, species.
The play’s story is told through the overlapping romantic narratives of four couples: a pair of gay penguin parents dealing with notoriety and controversy, a pair of red-tailed hawks dealing with the highs and lows of mating, journalist Paula Zahn and her husband dealing with a very public divorce, and a zookeeper and birdwatcher who connect via their love of watching the famed red-tailed hawks. Who will stay together and who won’t? Why do some relationships work and some end in heartbreak? These are a few of the questions I was asking between laughs at Marty Wayman’s playful direction.
The show is light on its feet and peppered with jokes that poke fun at the plight of the play’s characters (both feathered and otherwise), with plenty of heart stirring moments woven throughout, but Acito’s occasional reliance stale stereotypes of both gay and straight couples prevents the show from achieving the sophistication it is capable of beneath the comedic surface. For instance, one of the chief characterizations of Roy, one half of the real life gay penguin duo that became the poster birds for same-sex parenting, is that he likes show tunes. I mean I guess. It garnered some laughs at the Saturday performance I saw, but it felt a little too tired and on the nose for me to sink my teeth into, an annoyance that wasn’t otherwise strong enough to sully my enjoyment of the show as a whole.
Despite this flaw in the material, Wayman’s veteran cast enliven the stage with heartfelt yet hilariously drawn characters that compensate for Acito’s reliance on stereotypes.
Kyle Wade and Marcus Roland deliver charmed performances as Roy and Silo (or Rilo, as they would be called today), the Central Park penguins who were given an egg to hatch and raise. From the sweet moments of their budding romance to the conflicts that come later, the duo share a palpable chemistry. Wade’s levity balances Roland’s character’s brooding internal conflicts about being stuck in a zoo (which he calls a prison), about fame, and even his own sexuality. Kudos to Acito for including a character who is “not gay” but “in a gay relationship,” a welcome complication that urges the audience to think beyond the clear cut categories of gay or straight. Silo’s place on the spectrum of sexuality later yields one of the show’s heavier moments.
Real life married couple Bob Singleton and Allie Darden sizzle and entertain as Pale Male and Lola, a famed New York City red-tailed hawk and his long term mate. Singleton’s strutting alpha male posturing practically reeks of flagrant testosterone, which works on Darden’s Lola, a new mate he must impress and later, continue to impress, a much more difficult feat. While some of Acito’s straight couple banter sometimes feels a little stale, Singleton and Darden give one of the more dynamic shared performances of the evening.
Due to an emergency, Wayman stepped into the role of Paula Zahn just a few hours before the performance I saw instead of cast member Deborah G. Martin, who will be returning to her role for the show’s second weekend. The loss of Martin no doubt affected the play’s overall sense of flow and cohesion, but Wayman proved an able and spirited last-minute replacement.
Some of the show’s funniest moments were during bit appearances by supporting actors, like Burley Thomas’ brief but hilarious portrayal of ultra conservative Chastity Wright, a clear and unabashed lampooning of the Kim Davis’ of the world.
An entertaining if imperfect show, Birds of a Feather is a funny, delightful collision of love stories that offer plenty of food for thought about the nature of love and relationships, regardless of the form it takes.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.