by Andrew Rothkin · August 13, 2014
And Then Came Tango, Emily Freeman’s timely play for young audiences, shares the tale of six chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo -- and the people who care for them. More specifically and touchingly, Freeman zeroes in on Roy and Silo, two males who form a penguin bond akin to their male-female-paired peers, engaging in mating rituals and trying to hatch a rock. Even more touchingly, Lily, the young Junior Keeper, convinces Walter, the zookeeper in charge of the exhibit, to let Silo and Roy incubate an orphaned egg – which they do to loving fruition. Most touching of all -- the penguin love story really happened.
While their fellow penguins did not seem to mind the same-sex pairing, we of the human race are not always so understanding. Indeed, at Central Park Zoo in 1999 and its represented facsimile onstage, when news of the zoo goings-on was leaked, some of the public cried out and demanded the two be split up.
You can read about the pair and their impact online or in any one of several books on the topic. Or, if you find yourself in NYC from now through August 21, you can learn all about them -- and of penguins at large -- through Freeman’s compassionate script.
And perhaps your child might learn a thing or two about tolerance and understanding.
The production is well-staged by Lindsay Amer. Lauren Fakete’s choreography, danced by a gifted “colony” of performers to sundry, character-defining music, really brought the piece to vibrant life.
At the center of the story, Justin Laguna and Travis James (Roy and Silo, respectively) were completely charming and endearing, committing to their roles as much as the penguins were committed to each other. Their courtship-dance was beautiful, James’ solo exquisite. The remaining parcel (or muster or waddle) of penguins was also terrific: Cody Boccia, Wednesday Derrico, Allison M. Mahoney and Chris Negron. Mahoney also gave a nuanced (and much too brief) performance as Lily’s mother. Boccia stood out for making particularly strong choices.
As the human counterparts, both Brooke Weisman (Lily) and Alex Dagg (Walter) gave solid performances. Dagg grounded the piece; Weisman’s penguin-passion was palpable. I would have loved to have learned more about the human characters…their life outside the zoo. Indeed, the quick scene at Lily’s home unveiled a few things about her character. For me, knowing even more would have made the human characters more relatable, which in turn, would have made the penguins’ struggles more personal and more immediate.
I missed some lines in the semi-cavernous space, but am confident that as the actors get used to the space, that will no longer be an issue. Also, for future incarnations, a more ethnically diverse ensemble would further illuminate the theme of tolerance, and same would serve as an unsaid teaching tool in and of itself.
Whatever your political views or social background, And Then Came Tango is a fun, sensitively-drawn starting place to chat with your child about tolerance and what it means to be a penguin. Whoops. Make that human.