Bird Watching

Marc Acito's gay penguin play is based on the most banned book in the nation

Right now, a play about gay penguins — and more broadly, gay marriage — is playing at a small, relatively new theater in Fairfax County.

Birds of a Feather
Birds of a Feather

”I’ve had larger, more established theaters turn this play down because they felt it was too controversial,” says Birds of a Feather author Marc Acito. ”And they’re doing it in Fairfax! This to me is an enormously brave thing. It’s not an environment where you do edgy, controversial, boundary-pushing theater.”

But that’s exactly what Fairfax’s Hub Theatre is doing. Acito’s play touches on the controversy over the children’s book And Tango Makes Three, about real-life gay penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo that ended up raising a chick. Six years after publication, the book ranks as the most banned book in the nation, simply because of its gay parenting angle.

In Birds of a Feather, Acito contrasts the ”bird-brained human behavior” that the New York City penguins provoked, contrasting it with another real-life New York avian love story from the same time period, about red-tailed hawks. Because they were straight, you probably haven’t heard much about the hawks in years.

“[Birds] is a love letter to my partner,” says Acito. “It looks at the unvarnished truth of what it is to be in a long-term relationship, gay or straight.” Acito and his partner have been together for 25 years.

The 45-year-old playwright, who’s in the early stages of writing a couple books to musicals, including an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, says, ”Becoming a playwright was my midlife crisis.” He may have started his career as a stage actor and opera singer, but he’s best known today as a novelist and humorist, a former columnist for The Advocate and a regular contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered.

And humor still colors Acito’s work. Despite its serious sociological examinations, Birds of a Feather is a comedy. ”For Christ’s sake, we’ve got actors playing birds,” he laughs. ”The whole thing gets pretty wacky for a while there.” The play even touches on how penguins have sex. ”It’s what I call a twist and squirt, basically. That’s pretty much how it happens.”

Marc Acito’s Birds of a Feather runs to Aug. 7 at John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax. Tickets are $25. Call 703-674-3177 or visit

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

Get the Best of Metro Weekly. Join Our Email List.

Subscribe now to get the latest news, features, incredible contests and special offers delivered daily to your in-box!

We respect your privacy and never share your email with a third party.