Review: “Dada Woof Papa Hot” at About Face Theatre
Gay parenting is the new normal in Peter Parnell’s slick dramedy
Gay parenting is the new normal in Peter Parnell’s slick dramedy, in a top-notch Chicago premiere
Theater review by Kris Vire
Clockwise from left: Shane Kenyon, Jos N. Banks, Benjamin Sprunger and Bruch Thomas Reed
Dada Woof Papa Hot had its premiere in the fall of 2015 at NYC’s Lincoln Center Theater, just a few months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges had finally made same-sex marriage available across the United States. Marriage equality had been the law of the land in New York since 2011, however, and Peter Parnell’s portrait of bougie Upper West Side parents—including two pairs of gay dads—suggests that some gay men were already questioning whether all this domesticity was really what they wanted after all.
Alan (Bruch Thomas Reed) and Rob (Benjamin Sprunger) have been together for 15 years and have a three-year-old daughter, Nicola (who, inverting the old adage, is heard but not seen). Rob is a therapist in his 40s, from whom Alan loves to extract anecdotes from his clients’ sessions. Alan is one of those mythical creatures who appear in romantic comedies and plays that premiere at Lincoln Center Theater: a well-off freelance journalist.
From left: Bruch Thomas Reed, Keith Kupferer, Lily Mojekwu and Benjamin Sprunger
More importantly, he’s a few years older than Rob—enough to have lived through the most frightening years of the AIDS epidemic. Even in the age of casual sex, Alan only ever wanted a monogamous relationship; parenthood, on the other hand, was beyond his wildest dreams, but it was a dream of Rob’s, and Alan went along. He’s uneasy as a parent, though, and is convinced that Nicola loves Rob more than him—and, though he’s hesitant to admit it, that Rob loves Nicola more than him as well.
We learn most of these details in the company of other parents. Rob and Alan’s new friends from a gay-dads meetup, venture capitalist Scott (Jos N. Banks) and artist Jason (Shane Kenyon), are younger but already on their second kid. It’s clear from the play’s first scene, with the foursome out for a child-free dinner, that Jason has a roving eye.
He’s not alone: in the next scene, in which Alan’s college buddy Michael (Keith Kupferer) and his wife Serena (Lily Mojekwu) are over for dinner, Michael reveals to Alan that he’s having an affair with another parent from their kids’ school. Alan, aghast, nevertheless offers that he’s working on an article about research into a so-called fidelity gene—the implication being that males’ tendency toward promiscuity or monogamy could be hard-wired.
Shane Kenyon, left, and Bruch Thomas Reed
Parnell’s plotting is entertaining, if not terribly high-stakes; he spends a little too much capital on the same rich-parent dilemmas about getting into the right preschools and finding the perfect nannies—excuse me, caretakers—that have been featured in a cavalcade of dramas set in straight people’s well-appointed living rooms.
And parenting and legal marriage sometimes feel like slight new glosses on the glossy gay-white-male universe in which so many years’ worth of gay plays have been set. Now they have to invent stories to tell their kids about what those other men were doing in the bushes at Fire Island, but that’s not going to stop them from summering at Fire Island. (Keira Fromm, the director of About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere, and her casting associate Stephen Schellhardt deserve credit at least for avoiding an all-white cast, like the New York production’s.)
Bruch Thomas Reed, left, and Benjamin Sprunger
But Parnell finds his most interesting terrain at the intersections. Marriage and children are relatively new territories for gay people in the U.S., grounds that many of us grew up believing were off-limits to us—or were options only available by repressing your true self and remaining in the closet.
Partaking in those institutions is a kind of assimilation; gay men and women who once forged their own paths can look forward to facing the same kinds of familial and societal pressures to marry and reproduce as their straight friends do. The artsier men in Parnell’s coterie, gay or straight (Michael writes musical theater), chafe at the constraints.
Fromm’s sleek, confident staging, played against an ingenious puzzle-box set by William Boles, tees up those questions handsomely for an impeccable cast. The more conservative spouses in each pair get the short shrift in terms of characterization, but Sprunger, Banks and Mojekwu fill them in nicely. Kenyon imbues Jason with a rangy (and randy) restlessness, while Kupferer is reliably grounded even in Michael’s neuroses. And Reed’s Alan, at the center of the play but feeling always pushed to the edges, makes his daddying issues thoroughly relatable.
Dada Woof Papa Hot
About Face Theatre at Theater Wit (1229 W Belmont Ave). By Peter Parnell. Directed by Keira Fromm.
Cast: Benjamin Sprunger, Bruch Thomas Reed, Keith Kupferer, Shane Kenyon, Lily Mojekwu, Jos N. Banks, Rachel Sullivan.
Designers: William Boles (scenic), Claire Chrzan (lighting), Noël Huntzinger (costumes), Christopher Kriz (sound/music), Jamie Karas (props), Sasha Smith (intimacy).
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes; no intermission. Through February 16. Tickets ($20–$38) at aboutfacetheatre.com.
Photographs by Michael Brosilow.
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