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A CurtainUp Review
Dada Woof Papa Hot
By Elyse Sommer
The couples pioneering the joys and pitfalls of the right to live like traditional married couples in both Mark Gerrard's Steve and Peter Parnell's Dada Woof Papa Hot are upscale New Yorkers. Though both sets of couples belong to a narrow demographic, their needs and expectations represent diverse viewpoints.
Both plays begin in a trendy restaurant, are stylishly staged, and directed with flair in a pacey 90 minutes. I'll comment on Steve separately, and for now say only that Gerrard's comic approach to post marriage equality life comes off as too much of a wannabe new Boys in the Band.
Peter Parnell's play isn't quite the groundbreaker it wants to be either and suffers from an annoyingly silly title. Hard to remember and keep straight at that title is, it does establishes the central focus as being on gay dads. With the two key dads Rob (Patrick Breen) and Alan (John Benjamin Hiickey) being Dada and Papa, their 4-year-old daughter Nicole's baby babble also sets up the conflict of one dad being more connected to the child than the other.
It's not unusual to have one partner in a marriage more eager to have a child; nor is the little bundle of joy's dampening effect on a couple's sex life. In Rob and Alan's case Rob takes to everything about fatherhood like the perennial duck to water. Being older he never thought he'd have a chance to experience this kind of life and joyously embraces it. Since he's a successful psychotherapist, that includes jumping on the upscale New York parent bandwagon of exposing their kids to the best cultural and education opportunities. It also means that the somewhat younger but also middle-aged Alan's less natural bonding with little Nicola is exacerbated by his career as a writer being at a demoralizing dead end.
Parnell uses the gay dad set-up — a gay dad's group— to connect Rob and Alan with another couple, Scott (Stephen Plunkett) and Jason (Alex Hurt). It's one of those easy, let's meet for dinner friendships between couples with kids who like each other despite differences. Scott and Jason are younger and Scott seems to be patterned on the buttoned-up character present in many older gay plays. As Rob amusingly puts it "he may be a Republican."
To underscore the universality of midlife angst about being less interesting and attractive and the priorities of family life's way of eroding romance and intimacy, Parnell has added a straight couple, Serena and Michael (Kelly Overby and John Pankow), into the mix. The connection comes through their being close friends of Alan's since college.
Parnell has thus cleverly, though rather too schematically, created a triple set of families whose long-term relationships and over involvement with children have caused one half of each partnership to have an affair. Since the men having the affairs are all in free lance careers (Jason is a painter and Michael writes songs for musicals), their work schedules are loose enough to make it easy to indulge in dalliances.
Since the play covers a year in the lives of these couples but runs just 90 minutes it doesn't take long for the fault lines in each of these marriages to erupt. I won't go into spoiler territory with details but Alan and Rob are the most complex and interesting characters. The crisis that they must deal with comes closest to really demonstrating how today's new more inclusive mores for gay men are putting a new and still evolving spin on conflicts not previously filtered through a gay lens.
Scott and Jason are fairly familiar gay types and don't engage us as much as Rob and Alan do. While Alan like Jason was reluctant about becoming a dad, had he been married in 1970 when Nena O'Neill and George O'Neil initiated a sexual revolution among traditional marrieds with their book Open Marriage, Alan would not have jumped on that bandwagon. Jason, on the other hand, represents that segment of the gay community who want to retain certain aspects of their outsider status. In short, have their cake and eat it.
John Pankow and Kellie Oberbey are fine actors, as is Tammy Blanchard (who drops off and picks up her children at the same school attended by Pankow's kids). However, I think Mr. Parnell would have had a stronger, richer play without their characters. Granted, his intention to take his new look at life in today's more open-minded world is valid, but it seems forced in this play.
Of course, without three couples and and three triangular situations, Dada Woof. . . wouldn't have John Lee Beatty's elegant metaphoric set of sliding triangle shaped platforms to take us to various locations. But then the talented Mr. Beatty would no doubt have come up with some other clever setting.
Despite my reservation Dada Woof. . . is more often than not enjoyable. Director Scott Ellis sees to it that the actors smoothly navigate these diverse views on parenthood and commitment. Parnell's touchingly use s of the children's story "Peter and the Wolf" to point out how, welcome as the chance to have more inclusive lives is, it can also be scary.
If Dada Woof and Steve are indeed templates for a developing sub-genre, there's certainly no shortage of other territories to explore; for example, same sex couples whose concerns don't revolve around getting their kids into high-priced private schools, mixed race and transgender folks. And as time goes by, there are the grown up versions of this play's unseen children to tell their stories.