Dada Woof Papa Hot
Peter Parnell pens a lamentable tale about what happens when gay daddies become actual daddies.
Statue-like, four gay men sit around a table on a pedestal safely positioned far away from the audience in the first scene of Peter Parnell's Dada Woof Papa Hot, now making its world premiere at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse. We're told they're dining at a very exclusive Manhattan restaurant at which we plebs could never hope to get a reservation. While the set eventually shifts in this 90-minute drama about gay parents, the play's totemic posture remains. Long weekends in South Beach, private preschool, pediatricians that make house calls for acid reflux: Parnell's characters, with their ultra-privileged lifestyles, are utterly separated from the realities facing most American parents (gay or otherwise), yet they are spuriously held up as representatives of the "middle class."
"We're f*cking middle class!" Rob (Patrick Breen) almost too insistently shouts at his husband, Alan (John Benjamin Hickey), in the gorgeously designed master suite of their downtown Manhattan home. Parnell (who penned the book for the ludicrous 2011 same-sex adaptation of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) never acknowledges the baffling incongruity of using such terms to describe gay men who spend six figures to sire biological children. They may be in the middle of something, but it is not the American class structure.
Rob and Alan are raising their daughter, Nicola (voiced by Tori Feinstein), in New York City. Past middle age, Alan never expected to be able to marry a man, much less raise a child with him. They meet younger couple Scott (Stephen Plunkett) and Jason (Alex Hurt) at a group for gay parents. The four immediately hit it off, particularly Jason and Alan. Coincidentally writing an article about the genetic origins of monogamy, Alan can't help but be drawn toward the handsome young artist. At the same time, Alan's best friend and fellow dad Michael (John Pankow) is cheating on his wife, Serena (Kellie Overbey), with Julia (Tammy Blanchard). Sexual tension buzzes as the responsibility of parenthood collides with the impracticality of monogamy. If the sheer dishonesty of this play's premise doesn't make you roll your eyes, its artless construction and delivery will.
Parnell presents us with a clumsy parade of gay lingo: "I thought you were a DILF [Dad I'd Like to F*ck]," Alan tells Jason, during a less than steamy encounter in Nicola's playroom. "I cruised you." Throughout the play, Hickey valiantly tries to make Alan's stilted lines sound natural, but he can't help sounding like an alien masquerading as a homosexual.
Plunkett has an even harder time with the caricatured financier Scott: He makes awkward little jabs at his husband during an ill-advised two-family vacation to Fire Island Pines. "I don't like to share Jason. And I have to share him all the time," he seethes about Jason's extracurricular activities in the meat rack, but he might as well be saying, "I want to have a clichéd breakup in front of our new friends." Meanwhile, Michael, Serena, and Julia seem to exist only to say, See, heterosexuals do it too! None of the people in this cast are bad actors, they're just written that way.
Ironically, promiscuous Jason turns out to be the most levelheaded one in the bunch (and the only one with whom you might want to spend more than five minutes thanks to Hurt's amiable, less-is-more performance): Sure, he cats around, but by his husband's own begrudging admission he's an even more attentive parent for it. You'd think this was a perfectly functional arrangement, but such logical conclusions have little currency in this bizarre play world in which Victorian morality has been superimposed on 21st-century gay men.
Even if he can't make the language sound authentic, director Scott Ellis at least attractively garnishes this anorexic meal of a play. As always, set designer John Lee Beatty dazzles us with his sumptuous interiors, but with an added wow factor: The scenes slide in diagonally on wooden planks, like a fancy European puzzle (the kind one might find in any of these families' designer playrooms). Jennifer von Mayrhauser outfits the cast in stylish, well-tailored clothes. It looks great, but are we really supposed to believe these modern-day aristocrats when they tell us how exhausted they are from parenting?
It almost feels like watching a gay version of Downton Abbey, absent the likable characters (at least those stalwart Brits would have the good sense not to break up the family over something as insignificant as a sexual dalliance). They mention the help in passing, but (just like the children in question) we never see or hear from them: Scott and Jason have a Tibetan nanny named Thu while Rob and Alan have Sophia. "It's terrific that our caregivers get along so well. Nice especially when they're from two different cultures," Jason observes. It's also good because they spend a lot of time together with the kids while their employers are busy hashing out their petty drama.
Hopefully, same-sex families in America (the vast majority of which do not look like the people depicted in Dada Woof Papa Hot) will one day get a more authentic depiction of their lives onstage.