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 thehubtheatre.org.

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

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