In this week devoted to the consumption of a large bird, let us turn our attention to the condition of a small one. A house sparrow, to be precise. When last this blog considered the species, it was to pipe the song of Janus, whom Dada Woof Papa Hot actor Patrick Breen, the bird’s human companion, brought to rehearsals, conferring upon him the status of production mascot.
Well, it turns out that Breen, like his character in the play, who has one child but pines for another, has been broody. “About 6 months ago,” Breen told me this week, “I visited the office of the Wild Bird Fund, at 87th and Columbus. I told them that I had a sparrow and that if they got an unreleasable one that I would be interested in adopting her.”
Three weeks ago, Breen got the call. He returned to the Fund’s offices. “It’s quite something. You go in. You might see a seagull walking around, or a goose with a broken neck. You peer around a corner and there’s a bathtub with a swan in it. It’s crazy and I love it.”
When Breen first saw his new bird she was in a fish tank. “Her appetite was good. She’s blond – lighter than Janus, and much more drab than he is, which is why I think she’s a she.” Unlike Janus, whom Breen found on the street when the bird was a chick, the new kid is 5 or 6 months old. “The first night I got her, I brought her to the theater,” Breen said, an action that baptized her as Dada Woof Papa Hot’s co-mascot.
When Breen brought her home to his Brooklyn apartment, however, Janus wasn’t keen to share mascot duties – or anything else. “Janus freaked out,” Breen said. “He pulled out some of his feathers, which is a sign of stress.” Over the past week, the birds’ relations have improved. “They still have separate cages,” Breen explained, “but there is now supervised visitation, and Janus isn’t pulling out his feathers as he did at the start.”
Breen has no immediate plans to bring both birds back to the theater – “two cages is a lot to schlep from Brooklyn” – but if he did they would be welcomed by all the actors. Which wasn’t the case when Janus, who, until his gender-revealing feathers grew in, was Janis, made his mascot debut 4 years ago with a production of The Normal Heart on Broadway. “Ellen Barkin was terrified of him,” Breen said. “She has this phobia of birds.”
You may have noticed that I have not yet revealed the new mascot’s name. “At the Wild Bird Fund,” Breen said, “they told me that either the bird or the woman who brought her in – they weren’t sure which – was called Paige.”
Breen’s Heart and Dada costar, John Benjamin Hickey, made a quick connection between the animals. “He said, ‘Janis Paige,’” Breen recounted, “who was a popular singer in the 1950s.” (She was also a Broadway actor, known primarily for starring in the 1954 hit The Pajama Game.) But just as Janus did not stay Janis, Paige also underwent a metamorphosis. “She has an egghead look,” Breen said, “and it’s clear she is a reader. So it had to be Page.”
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.