July 14, 2011 | by Patrick Folliard
Flocking together

‘Birds of a Feather’
Through Aug. 7
The Hub Theatre @
The New School
9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax
703-674-3177

From left, Matt Dewberry, Jjana Valentiner, playwright Marc Acito, director Shirley Serotsky, Dan Crane and Eric Messner. (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy of Hub Theatre)

Much of gay writer Marc Acito’s work is ripped from the headlines. This applies to his National Public Radio commentaries, and it’s also true about his funny new play “Birds of a Feather” now making its world premiere at the Hub Theatre in Fairfax.

Inspired by two Manhattan stories that got a lot of press about seven years ago, the comedy focuses on gay penguins that fall in love and hatch an egg in the Central Park Zoo, and a messy-but-devoted pair of straight hawks who famously make their home high atop a tony Fifth Avenue co-op. Acito explores what he imagines to be the birds’ motivations as well as the ways in which humans react to these two feathered families.

“What most interested me about the bird stories,” says Acito by phone from his home in New York, “is that both elicited such a huge response from the public. There was a lot of anthropomorphizing going on — the hawk Pale Male was praised as a good father, and the co-op was accused of attempting to unjustly evict a lovely family. The hetero normative hawks were pretty much unanimously supported.”

On the other hand, says Acito, 45, the longtime pair-bonded male penguins Silo and Roy who together hatched an abandoned egg weren’t entirely celebrated. In fact, an award winning children’s book about the penguins’ nontraditional family “And Tango Makes Three” ranks as one of America’s most controversial books, and has been challenged or banned in numerous libraries and school districts.

When “Birds of a Feather” was first read two summers ago at JAW Playwright’s Festival in Portland, (Acito’s home from around 1990 until last year), Hub Theatre artistic director Helen Pafumi contacted Acito. She was eager to mount the show in Fairfax. “There had been controversy about the children’s book in neighboring Loudon County, and Helen thought my play was relevant to the community. Part of Hub’s mission is to facilitate conversation among different factions who live side by side.”

“Hub is a real gem waiting to be discovered,” Acito says. “I realize it might be a little out of way, but I’m hoping gay theatergoers will be willing to make the trek out of curiosity. They can attend a matinee and be back in town for happy hour. If nothing else I know my audiences.”

Staged by Shirley Serotsky, “Birds of a Feather” features a talented quartet who play the penguin and hawk couples (the aptly named Dan Crane and Matt Dewberry), a female zookeeper (Jjana Valentiner) whose best friend is gay man, a birder (Eric Messner), as well as myriad other characters including Mary Tyler Moore, Paula Zahn and a bevy of Catholic school girls.

“All the facts of the play are true, but of course I fictionalize what the birds are thinking,” Acito says. “I certainly feel qualified to write about relationships. My partner and I have been together for 25 years. And while gay relationships are unique in many ways, the fundamentals of living with a partner are the same for everyone.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Acito starred in high school musicals. He describes himself as the guy darting about in Capezio dance shoes and leg warmers. Later he dropped out of Carnegie Mellon’s drama program due to “artistic differences.”

“I thought I could act. They didn’t,” he says.

After more study, he began a professional opera career: “I played character parts — drunks and hunchbacks mostly. It was fun and I learned a lot about comedy and western history, but for me opera was a shoe that never really fit. Ultimately I decided that I needed to create art rather than recreate it onstage, so I began writing.”

He started with the gay press. Next he wrote “How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater,” a cult novel about theater people. A successful sequel followed. When the bottom fell out of publishing, he returned to theater and relocated to New York, but this time as a writer. Currently he’s collaborating with composer Jeffrey Stock on a musical adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic “A Room with a View” slated to premiere at the Old Globe in San Diego next spring. Buzz is good.

Today Acito is thrilled to have found new meaning in his life and career. “There’s an audience that understands my message and aesthetic, and they’re very much in the theater. This time, I feel that I’ve found the shoe that really fits.”

 

 

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