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A Gay Ol’ Time: Off Broadway’s Latest Trend

December 1st, 2015 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler review Dada Woof Papa Hot and Steve.

(l to r) Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Parick Breen in 'Dada Woof Papa Hot.' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Alex Hurt, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Plunkett, and Parick Breen in ‘Dada Woof Papa Hot.’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Two gay-themed plays are on the boards this fall, so if you’re looking for baby daddies and aging chorus boys, there’s no better time to be going to the theatre. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for new works that transcend a certain demographic (in which this reviewer belongs), it might be a stretch to see beyond some of the one-note themes portrayed in these post-Stonewell tales of love and life.

(l to r) Patrick Breen and John Benjamin Hickey in 'Dada Woof Papa Hot.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog)

(l to r) Patrick Breen and John Benjamin Hickey in ‘Dada Woof Papa Hot.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog)

Dada Woof Papa Hot by Peter Parnell tackles gay parenting set in the bourgeois world of New York City’s upper middle class—though given John Lee Beatty’s ingenious set including a trendy restaurant, Fire Island share, and multi-room apartment on the Upper West Side—we should all be so lucky. Rob (Patrick Breen) and Alan (John Benjamin Hickey) are in the midst of raising a toddler and struggling with their own mid-life crises when they meet a younger gay couple, Jason (Alex Hurt) and Scott (Stephen Plunkett) at a gay parenting group. They become enamored with the fresh-faced duo and friendships begin, only to be derailed by an expected infidelity. But the gays aren’t the only ones bored playing house. Straight friends Serena (Kellie Overbey) and Michael (John Pankow) find themselves in a similar situation—struggling to keep the spark in their marriage while raising little ones. Michael’s wandering eye lands on Julia (Tammy Blanchard), a real Housewife of New York-type that also finds herself in a withering marriage.

And so the revelations begin amid contemporary quips full of gay vernacular and child rearing. Parnell’s script is filled with zippy one-liners:

“By the way, I still can’t get used to young gay guys using that word as a verb instead of a noun.”

“Which word?”

“Bottomed. ‘I bottomed for him,’ instead of ‘I’m a bottom.’”

The subscriber base at Lincoln Center and gay-heavy audience chuckle throughout, as the play jumps through the revelatory hoops of indiscretion and the looming question of “Is this it?”

Mr. Breen and Mr. Hickey breathe life into their characters as they suffer through revealed infidelities and the subsequent consequences. There are interesting riffs that explore what their life was versus what it has become: surviving the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and parenthood. The younger pair doesn’t fare as well: Mr. Hurt as an artist with a monotonous cadence and penchant for extramarital activities, and Mr. Plunkett as his conservative, quasi-Republican counterpart. Gratuitous Fire Island nudity also feels contrived and begs the question, “Is this it?”

Dada Woof Papa Hot does offers smatterings that may remind of you of the works of Terrence McNally (Love! Valor! Compassion!) or A.R. Gurney (Children). But where those playwrights’ works tend to transcend circumstance and offer rich characterizations and broader social commentary, Dada Woof Papa Hot feels as though its relevance is as fleeting as its intermissionless running time.

(l to r) Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in 'Steve.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog)

(l to r) Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone and Matt McGrath in ‘Steve.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog)

The New Group has its hands on another gay play, Steve, by Mark Gerrard—ironically also set in Manhattan as well as Fire Island (one wonders if us gays have been exiled to a self-proclaimed East Coast ghetto left only with a shortlist of Michelin star restaurants and Andrew Christian underwear). But whereas Dada Woof Papa Hot suffocates in its preciousness, Steve blows the top off in an Ethel Merman-style throwdown that only escalates as the play continues.

Stephen (Malcolm Gets) and Steven (Matt McGrath) gather at a restaurant for the latter’s birthday with besties Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson) and fellow gay couple Matt (Mario Cantone) and Brian (Jerry Dixon). Little does Stephen know, but his partner has been privy to texting indiscretions thanks to their toddler’s penchant for stealing electronic equipment. The table becomes smitten with their aspiring Argentinian dancer/waiter, Esteban (Francisco Prior Garat)—especially Steven, who through the course of the play dabbles in his own extramarital affairs.

(l to r) Matt McGrath, Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat in 'Steve.' (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Matt McGrath, Ashlie Atkinson and Francisco Pryor Garat in ‘Steve.’ (Photo: Monique Carboni via The Broadway Blog.)

Where Steve succeeds is in its innovative theatrical convention, which explores what we want to say versus what we really say in our lives. Much of the dialogue is wickedly and hilariously biting, peppered with more musical theater references than a late-night YouTube binge of all the various actresses who have played Elphaba in Wicked (also the name of Steven and Stephen’s cat).

Director Cynthia Nixon, who directed Rasheeda Speaking for The New Group last season, approaches the piece with a surgeon’s precision and demands such intent from the well-cast ensemble. Mr. McGrath steers the ship as the narcissistic Steven, failing to acknowledge that his best friend, Carrie, is dying of cancer. Ms. Atkinson is much more than a sidekick novelty, delivering one-liners as well as heartfelt gravitas with equal sincerity. The rest of the cast follows suit, including a tech-savvy monologue by Mr. Getz, who brilliantly navigates sexting while simultaneously having a phone conversation with his mother.

Steve is tender and brassy, and perhaps sometimes too shrill for its own good. The musical theater references can become exhausting and are reinforced by an unnecessary pre show consisting of a cast sing-a-long and a curtain call lifted from The Sound of Music. It casts a thin veneer over the play, which otherwise delivers plenty of heart and humanity.

Dada Woof Papa Hot
Lincoln Center Theater – Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th Street
Through January 3

Steve
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Through January 3