San Diego, CA----It’s hard to imagine that the 2005 Caldecott, Newbery Award Winning children’s book, “And Tango Makes Three”, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson was banned from school library shelves. Because of the controversial nature of the contents, h o m o s e x u a l t y, it caused a big stir in many conservative pockets of America.
Male penguins living in the Central Park Zoo’s penguin house were observed by the zookeepers and penguin watchers to be sleeping together and acting in a family way.
Taking this premise and based on the facts as they were reported, the play “Birds Of A Feather” by Marc Acito was hatched. It follows two tracks or tales of the celebrity winged interaction as told in the news.
Now in a west coast premiere at Diversionary Theatre, it is being given a top-notch airing. The play is witty, charming, and smart packed with insight into the human condition called sexuality. Its sure handed direction by James Vasquez is just perfect and sails along without a hitch.
Helping in this effort with some pretty smooth acting are Steve Gunderson and Mike Sears both taking on the roles of the same sex penguins Roy and Silo with Roy as the female acting of the two and Silo the male. The heterosexual red-tailed hawks Pale Male (Gunderson) and Lola (Sears) reverse roles. Rachael Van Wormer and Kevin Kopperman-Gue fill in as all the humans. All four actors play 25 roles.
We first meet up with Roy as he is attempting to position a rock on to a place in the cage where he can sit on it believing it to be an egg. Silo, his male counterpart scoffs at the idea reminding Roy that males cannot produce eggs. (“It’s impossible. We are both males. And it’s a rock”. “This is not a chick. It’s a rock. You dork”. ) The zookeepers noting Roy’s behavior put an actual egg into the enclosure and much to Roy and Silo’s pleasure, they nurtured it until, well, Tango is born.
On the other track Pale Male and Lola, our heterosexual red-tailed hawk couple, couple to make their own family unit experiencing the same trails and tribulations we two legged animals encounter up to and including raising kids, straying husbands, squabbling over who said what and why and the lack of privacy especially since the birds are under 24 hour observation.
Going back and fourth, Gunderson’s Pale Mae becomes the macho male bragging of having eight flings, some even while Lola thinks he is loyal to her. He can’t even count how many offspring he fathered. Sears delicately balances the part of the hurt wife Lola showing indignation, anger and disappointment to final resignation as she tries to ‘hold on to her man’. Both Gunderson and Sears have perfected the art of gender bending in a tour de farce performance that that has to be among the best for both men.
When Pale Male decides to build a nest at the top of a Fifth Avenue co-op where TV celebrity Paula Zahn and her big shot millionaire husband Richard Cohen reside all hell breaks loose and as both couples get into it, let’s just say it ‘aint’ pretty.
And speaking about the human condition being played out by birds, the guy humans in our story (Birdwatcher, a man in coveralls, gay and Richard Cohen) are all played to perfection by Kopperman-Gue once again mimicking what’s going on in and out of the zoo. The gal parts, Zookeeper, Paula Zahn, Mary Tyler Moore and female birdwatcher by Rachael Vanwormer who wears her emotions on her sleeve is a mirror illustration of the female avian.
Sean Fanning set design resembles Henry Cole’s book illustrations. The zoo enclosure for the penguins has a few steps looking like ice blocks to different landings and atop the pent house co-op is a sturdy nest where Pale Male and Lola keep their young protected.
But the peace de resistance is Jane Galloto’s costumes. Both men are wearing white jackets, white pants and white boot/shoes. Silo, has a black check hoodie and the front of his jacket is half black and half white with long white sleeves. Yes, he looks much like a penguin. Visually, it’s rather mesmerizing.
Roy’s look is a bit different. The back panel of his jacket is black and when he becomes Pale Male that black panel opens up and falls down to his heels and his whole back is covered in a red and orange feather like design. As Lola, she is now jacketless and her soft white blouse that covers one shoulder gives her a sexy look. A thin orange and red speckled scarf primps her like a prima donna as she waves it to and fro it much like a fashion statement.
“The American Library Association reports “And Tang Makes Three" was the most challenged book of 2006-2010 except for 2009 when it was second most challenged.”
A voluntary library worker in one of the schools was quoted as saying that the book was problematic because the penguins ‘sleep together’ to wit Zahn replied “So do Curious George and the Man in Yellow Hat”. And in Silo’s own words, “Sexual orientation is an artificial construct. A modern paradigm to codify behavior and put us in boxes”.
'Birds' soars for ninety or so minutes as the audience is treated a bird’s eye view of relationships, straight and gay that will keep the smiles coming, the heads nodding in agreement and touch the heartstrings; its suggestive and implied images resonate on many different levels.
Diversionary bills this play as an LG P(enguin) T Comedy about family, and that it is.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 3rd
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$36.00
Venue: Diversionary Theatre