Bjorn DuPaty and Gerald McCullouch
in Daddy
(© Eduardo Placer)
Bjorn DuPaty and Gerald McCullouch
in Daddy
(© Eduardo Placer)
If you want to gauge how hot a topic gay marriage is, forget the front pages and head to the theater. The latest play to weigh in on the subject -- if not the most successful -- is Dan Via's Daddy, now at the TBG Arts Center. While the work is nominally a comedy, it wants to be a tragedy and bends a few plot details beyond their breaking points to get there.

The play focuses on weathered newspaper columnist Colin (Gerald McCullouch), who is romancing a 21-year-old African American intern named Tee (Bjorn DuPaty). Watching the situation is Stew (Via), a longtime lawyer friend of Colin's who is suspicious of Tee's motives and pushes things to an unexpected discovery -- a plot twist that is unjustified by the writing.

It's simply not believable -- at least not from this playwright -- that Tee would do the extraordinary things he ends up doing to get close to Colin. For one thing, Colin comes across far too glib for us to take as seriously as would be necessary for this development to work. But, more important, Tee's explanations for his actions ring painfully hollow. (And, for what it's worth, they do no favors to the pro-gay-marriage side of the debate.) What would have been more believable, more compelling, and no less edgy is if we knew Tee's secret from the outset and the playwright played the situation for lighter laughs without losing the play's serious undertones.

It doesn't help matters that offstage characters are often used here as plot contrivances, such as a fundamentalist minister who is not really necessary to the central plot, and a former student of Stew's who, conveniently, is a former flame of Tee's with stories to tell. Via has also not yet developed an ear for natural dialogue. Characters call each other "dude" and "bro" in a way that is even less convincing than it's probably supposed to be. And to demonstrate Tee's youth, the playwright asks us to believe that this character, born and bred in the United States, has never heard of such mainstream names as the singer Sting or the movie E.T.

There are a few smart laugh lines here and there that suggest ideas that could have been further explored, such as when Stew ruminates over long-ago nights spent watching his more handsome, self-assured friend score with men. "We'd go out and the hot guys would be all over you," he recalls. "Like you were old friends from some secret club. I mean, whoever said opposites attract has never been to a gay bar."

While Via delivers such zingers with good timing, director David Hilder allows him to telegraph too much during his silent moments. Meanwhile, McCullouch and DuPaty seem capable of more than this problematic script allows.