(front) Bruch Thomas Reed with (back, l to r) Shane Kenyon, Jos N. Banks and Benjamin Sprunger in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
Parenting is messy, difficult business under any circumstances, but it’s especially tricky when you’re navigating the relatively uncharted waters of being a married gay couple with kids. The world of gay parenthood is the focus of
Dada Woof Papa Hot , a world premiere play by Peter Parnell produced by About Face Theatre and directed by Keira Fromm. Following the lives of two gay couples with kids, this debut work is a strange buffet of fresh ideas and stale storylines.
(left to right) Shane Kenyon and Bruch Thomas Reed in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
At the center of the play are
Rob and Alan, a couple with a three-year-old daughter and a problem that I suspect more parents experience than talk about: their daughter, Nicola, seems to prefer Rob over Alan. This leaves Alan feeling left out as his husband and daughter form a special bond that takes both of their affection and attention away from him. Making matters worse is the fact that Nicola is biologically Rob’s daughter and not Alan’s and that another gay married dad, Jason, makes Alan an offer he’s not sure he wants to refuse.
(left to right) Benjamin Sprunger and Bruch Thomas Reed in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
I can’t say anything against the acting in this show;
About Face has gathered an excellent group of performers to make this play happen. I especially enjoyed Shane Kenyon as Jason—his every expression tells a story—and Lily Mojekwu as Serena, who offers some of the play’s best moments of comedic relief. Scenic design by William Boles and sound design by Christopher Kriz were both excellent as well. Teddy bears, blankies, and an alphabet rug make it impossible to forget the presence of children in the characters’ lives even though they’re never onstage, and the voices of the offstage children were equal parts realistic and heartbreaking (a scene in which we can hear Nicola playing a variation of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star—badly—on her violin triggered flashbacks of my own childhood spent practicing out of Suzuki Violin Book 1).
(left to right) Keith Kupferer and Lily Mojekwu in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
The area where the show loses some of its luster is the storyline itself. For one thing, the script seems to be juggling too many couples; in addition to
Alan and Rob and Jason and his husband Scott, we also have Michael and Serena, a married couple with kids, plus Julia, the woman Michael’s been having an affair with. It’s unclear why these additional characters are necessary for the story. Possibly it has to do with the fact that Michael is cheating on his wife and Alan is cheating on his husband (I won’t apologize for spoilers, as it’s obvious from the first scene that that’s where it’s going). Which brings me to my main criticism of the story: infidelity as a plotline is incredibly boring. It’s been done so often that even queer stories about infidelity are cliché.
(front, l to r) Jos N. Banks and Shane Kenyon with (back, l to r) Benjamin Sprunger and Bruch Thomas Reed in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
I was fascinated by the nuances of parenting as gay men that the show offered, and the script does need something going on besides just
Alan’s feelings of estrangement from his family. But cheating? Cheating is the low-hanging fruit for the second storyline. I’ve seen so many damn plays about cheating, and it’s frustrating watching such a fresh and interesting conflict get mashed together with such a hackneyed one. Even Alan’s observation that his and Jason’s behavior mirrors that of straight couples doesn’t really justify the amount of time spent discussing and arguing over infidelity. There are so many other ways the couples could have been unintentionally mirroring heteronormativity that Parnell could have explored instead.
(left to right) Bruch Thomas Reed, Keith Kupferer, Lily Mojekwu and Benjamin Sprunger in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
About Face Theatre has begun to branch out in the types of stories it tells since artistic director Megan Carney took over. It’s refreshing to see gay characters over twenty, to see gay characters who are parents, and to see actors onstage who aren’t white. Dada Woof Papa Hot has the potential to be a groundbreaking and really superb play, but it shoots itself in the foot by spending too much time on the tired topic of marital infidelity. Everyone needs to stop sleeping around and do something interesting instead.
(left to right) Bruch Thomas Reed and Rachel Sullivan in About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere of DADA WOOF PAPA HOT
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Regular run: Friday, January 18 – Saturday, February 16, 2019.
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.
Please note: there will be an added performance on Saturday February 16, 2019 at 3 pm.
Tickets: $20 – $38. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are currently available at the About Face Theatre website, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at Theater Wit Box Office.
All photos by Michael Brosilow.