“Theater thrives on the unexpected,” said Shirley Serotsky, director of the Hub Theatre’s next offering, the world premiere comedy “Birds of a Feather.” Written by National Public Radio commentator Marc Acito, the play was inspired by real events at New York City’s Central Park Zoo and around the city.
The play is about how nature and nurture interweaves as two male penguins form a pair to raise a baby chick together; while several red-tailed hawks make a home for themselves on the ledge of a swanky Fifth Avenue residence captivating the human world.
“Birds of a Feather” is one of those “comedies that stay with you … coming back to this idea: Love is hard to find, and hard to maintain, but it provides a force like no other on this planet,” said Serotsky. With the animals necessarily played by humans, Serotsky cast actors “with the ability to transform, with strong movement skills, vocal range, creativity and great specificity.”
The idea for the play about two male penguins raising a baby chick came to playwright Acito “after thinking about ‘And Tango Makes Three,’ the children’s book … that continues to top the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books.”
“Many theaters have told me they consider it too controversial to produce,” said Acito, who praised Hub Theatre’s decision to stage the comedy.
“I think most great stories are love stories” said Helen Pafumi, the Hub Theatre’s artistic director. “Extremely funny, absurd and couched in the tale of a controversial topic, ‘Birds of a Feather’ is, at its heart, a story about the many faces of love. … It celebrates the many forms love takes, the search for it, the maintaining of it and sometimes even its demise.”
“Playing an animal shares many of the same struggles playing a human character,” said actor Matt Dewberry, who plays both a penguin and a hawk in the production. “You still have a character with wants, needs and obstacles, and that is where you have to start. The characters have to be believable.”
Dewberry said the overall theme of the play is one of “acceptance, tolerance, compassion, understanding and love. … It’s about finding that person or persons who loves you and accepts you for who you are so that you can feel free to be your true self.”
Jjana Valentiner plays a zookeeper watching over the penguins. She expects the audience will “get caught up in the joyful, precious, and at times complicated journey that is a relationship, regardless of whether it’s a traditional one or not.”
It will be a “rich night of theater,” said Pafumi. “How can anyone miss a show tune singing penguin or a Fifth Avenue man’s man of a hawk? This is going to be a blast.”