Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
They may flock together, but it's more complicated than that in Mark Acito's allegorical comedy. Married birds find themselves aboard a "relation ship," on smooth and stormy waters. And yet the unmarried birds, and human bird-watchers, yearn to find a mate.
Acito based his play on Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson's And Tango Makes Three (2005). Roy and Silo, male chinstrap penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo, behaved like a married couple: made a nest, performed mating rituals, and tried to hatch a rock. Zookeepers took an egg from another penguin couple (which had two) and gave it to Roy and Silo. Each sat on it, and when it hatched, they became the parents of Tango, a female chick.
Acito expands the story to include the mating habits of red-tailed hawks and humans. And he has the birds speak English.
As in "squawk is cheap, Lola!"
That's Pale Male, the first hawk to build a nest on a Manhattan high-rise. He's become a national celeb and doesn't mind Reality TV-like intrusions into his personal life. After all, he's a total stud and dines on "the finest vermin."
Lola's his what? Fourth wife? She comes to resent his serial husbandry and wants a more lasting commitment.
Roy and Silo also squabble. Roy is openly gay. Silo isn't. He says that sexual orientation is just " a social construct" used to "codify" and marginalize people. Silo also frets that Roy has taken too great a liking for his growing celebrity as a "role model for alternative families."
Things aren't much better for the wingless. Paula Zahn (once a San Diego newscaster) lives with her husband on the 12th floor of the Fifth Avenue co-op where Pale Male made his nest. Their rocky marriage takes several blatantly cheap shots during the 90-minute play.
Birds combines a kaleidoscopic view of personal relations, often with authorial explanations, with how the media blurs the boundary between public and private. At times it verges on being preachy. But most often it's very funny.
It might feel preachy-er if Diversionary didn't have James Vasquez directing and a top flight cast and design team (without whom, the piece might not fly).
Sean Fanning's set - the rocky exhibit at the zoo and Pale Male's aerie aloft - does a terrific job of putting much onto Diversionary's small stage without cramping anything. Michelle Caron's lighting ranks among her best: natural effects and, when needed, bold reds. Jeannie Galioto's costumes can flip a black and white penguin into a red-tailed hawk in a jiff.
Mike Sears doubles as Silo and Lola with admirable dexterity. Kevin Koppman-Gue and Rachael Van Wormer are sharp in multiple roles. And is there anything Steve Gunderson cannot do? He's both the gentle penguin, Roy, and the butch, anti-gay Pale Male, the Hawk of the Walk. When I win the lottery and start my own theater company as part of my first season I will cast Gunderson as Willy Loman.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, playing through March 3.