New York City Theater
"Dada Woof Papa Hot"
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
Be careful what you wish for. In Peter Parnell’s arresting, transitional “Dada Woof Papa Hot,” two gay couples seem to have it all: respect, marriage, children. Or do they? On the path to so-called “normality” or, at least, acceptance, they’ve given up whatever specialness they had in the days when gay marriage and parenthood were completely off the radar.
Fast forward to a whole new world. Alan (a writer) and Rob (a therapist) have been together fifteen years, married three, with a daughter, Nicola. At a pre-arranged dinner in a trendy restaurant, they meet a younger couple, Scott (in Private Equity) and Jason (an artist), who have been together eight years, married five, with two children. Amid comparing anecdotes and photos of their kids, amid worrying about pre-school and kindergarten, they also talk of the “sex / love split, endemic to an entire earlier generation of gay men.”
The free-wheeling, uninhibited past has seemingly vanished, certainly for parents with growing children. Yet, are they really parents, or, as Alan says, “playing the role of parents . . . publicly imitating straight behavior while privately practicing Old School gay behavior?” Who envies whom?
Alan, acted by John Benjamin Hickey with unsettling ambivalence, is the play’s focus. “Becoming like everybody else isn’t exactly what I wanted,” he says. .Adding to his distress is feeling Nicola prefers Rob, the biological dad.
The two gay couples aren’t the only ones with marital problems. Michael, married to Serena, with whom he has children, is having an affair with Julia, an actress. How that turns out and how it parallels Alan’s journey, is the play’s epicenter, told with bitter humor, as in “Isn’t being normal the most radical thing of all?”
What is true about the men is also true about everyone else: building a family, passing traits and memories from one generation to another, avoiding loneliness. On the flip side, there’s the responsibility, the inability to be independent, to take a vacation without the kids, to not be interrupted while having dinner, or worse, sex.
“Dada Woof Papa Hot” (the first words Nicola says) mines familiar marital and parental territory to show similarities between gays and straights. After all, what are the differences between the groups besides how they have sex, the elephant in the room?
Directed with sincerity by Scott Ellis, the evening offers an ensemble of skilled actors. Hickey’s Alan is the most complexly drawn character and the actor is excellent in the role, but all are individuated: Patrick Breen (Rob), Stephen Plunkett (Scott), Alex Hurt (Jason), John Pankow (Michael), Kellie Overbey (Serena) and Tammy Blanchard as the egotistic Julia.
That marriage and children-rearing are similar for both gay and straight parents is the point. But straights have been at it much longer. It’s in their DNA. Gays need more practice; then they can be on a par with everyone else. Which, as Parnell’s play suggests, might sound better than it is.
--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 27, 2015