Dada Woof Papa Hot Is So Realistic It Hurts

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The two couples meet for dinner — from left to right — Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett and Patrick Breen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

By Karen Isaacs

Dada Woof Papa Hot by Peter Parnell, which is now at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center has a title that will confuse you.  Try saying it fast even once; it rivals any tongue twister.

But the title makes sense: it is the first four words a toddler said.  Dada (for father Rob), woof (for a dog), Papa (for father Alan) and hot (for the stove).  Yet, as Alan says, what gay man wouldn’t want that appellation?

This is a story about the current generation of gay men – who marry, have children and become fathers.  Alan and Rob are such a couple and like most relatively new parents they are having some challenges.

Rob is a therapist while Alan is an artist. We learn that since Alan is older and Rob had found some research that indicated “older” sperm increased the chances of autism, Rob is the father; there is no doubt.  We also learn that their young daughter, Nicola, seems to definitely prefer Rob; she apparently screams if Alan tries to dress her or give her a bath.

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Kellie  Overbey and Patrick Breen. Photo by Joan Marcus

But Rob and Alan aren’t the only gay parents in the play.  There is also Scott and Jason, a younger gay couple with two children. For some reason Rob is convinced they should become friends with them; though the couple’s relationship seems much less stable.  Jason has not really accepted monogamy.

Then there is a heterosexual couple (Michael and Serena) whose marriage is also less than perfect.  Michael is a friend of Alan’s who confides he is having an affair with Julie, an actress in the midst of a divorce.

During the course of this comedy-drama all three marriages face challenges which revolve around the issue of fidelity and the adaptations that individuals must make as they transition from a couple to a family.

But underlying this is also the issue of the loss of identity that an outsider group (in this case gays) that becomes part of the mainstream feels.  Alan, sums it up when he asks the question (I paraphrase) “Who am I when I’m

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Patrick Breen and John Benjamin Hickey. Photo by Joan Marcus.

no longer special?”  The “special” is being a gay man.  Now he is just like many other couples and new parents.

These issues are explored in sometimes graphic detail and at other times in such deeply personal ways, that you feel like a voyeur and want to turn away.

The thing that makes this play different from many other family dramas is that it addresses the issue from the perspective of the gay couple.  In reality the issues are pretty much the same for any new parents – the child seems to prefer one parent, the other parent feels not only less important but less loved, romantic closeness may diminish due to the duties of parenting, family dynamics change, and so much more.

During the course of the play we see how two such couples deal with these issues.

Scott Ellis has directed a terrific cast. John Benjamin Hickey truly develops the character of Alan – the freelance journalist who is feeling left out in the bond between Rob and Nicola. I felt for this man.  Patrick Breen has to make Rob also sympathetic, a difficult job.  He seems so much more in control and assured compared to Alan.  Yet Breen lets you see the caring individual underneath.

As the other couple, Alex Hurt plays Jason as the man-child who has difficulty accepting monogamy (he doesn’t really) and adult behavior. Stephen Plunkett has his partner, the private equity financier, Scott, has the smaller role; he is the indulgent (to a point) parent of the juvenile Jason.

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Tammy Blanchard and John Pankow. Photo by Joan Marcus

Tammy Blanchard does a wonderful job with the smaller role of the neurotic Julia, the actress with whom Michael (John Pankow) is having affair.  Pankow does shows us Michael’s insecurities that led to it – a professional failure and a fear of aging.  Kellie Overbey rounds out the cast as his wife Serena.

John Lee Beatty has done his usual good job with the set, reflecting the up-scale New York City venues – a restaurant, the park, apartments.

Dada Woof Papa Hot is at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center until Jan. 3. For tickets visit lct.org.

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Photo by Joan Marcus

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