Theater Review: DADA WOOF PAPA HOT (About Face Theatre at Theater Wit in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 18, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Gay parents — for centuries that seemed a contradiction in terms. How could promiscuity engender anything beyond itself? But, if, as Delmore Schwartz said, “With dreams begin responsibilities,” along with (modern) marriage comes children. A lot of stuff suddenly altered in 2015 when marriage equality passed. Theater is just now catching up with the changes.

About Face Theatre must assume there’s a critical (audience) mass to whom to market Peter Parnell’s Dada Woof Papa Hot, an aggressively informative play devoted to two seemingly unrelated topics, gay parenting and marital infidelity. Time will tell.

In one act and two hours, Keira Fromm’s well-focused staging centers, just as Company does on bachelor Bobby, on one pivotal couple living in Maplewood, New Jersey. Bob (Benjamin Sprunger) is a shrink and Alan (Bruch Reed) an author currently working on a lavender-hued memoir about the 1980s. Through artificial insemination they’ve acquired — and adore — a three-year-old girl named Nicola (“Nikki”). Her arrival has radically reshaped (as in discoveries and disruption) their lives.

Their devotion to Nikki has become a litmus test for all their values — commitment in love as much as in child-rearing, the dogged worry that they’re not loved enough by this toddler or by each other (as they weren’t when they were kids), their doubts about whether fear of loneliness made them make Nikki as much as needing an ongoing semblance of themselves. (The play’s baby-talk title are Nikki’s first words describing her very different dads.)

They even wrestle with the thought that their sex drives are being subordinated to simply nurturing Nikki and whether she’s there to help them deal with missing their moms.

Parnell contrasts these concerns with those of their straight and gay, black and white, coupled friends. We encounter Michael (Keith Kupferer), a composer with a roving eye, and his much-tested mate, misnamed Serena (Lily Mojekwu), a control-freak Alpha woman. Then there are mover-and-shaker Scott (Jos N. Banks) and painter Jason (Shane Kenyon), their “open marriage” torn between settling into becoming responsible parents and craving the independence they relished as singles. Finally, meet Julia (Rachel Sullivan), an actress still working out her connections with real-life responsibilities.

Haunting all three couples is a persistent and infuriating question: Is this all there is? And a daunting, haunting thought: Be careful what you wish for…

An almost crash course in the perils and promise of (gay) parenting, this fairly freighted one-act works and acts out practically every problem challenging children as much as their caregivers. We learn about competition for the best schools, Suzuki violin lessons, and the most effective play-dates; identity crises as once-dynamic differences dissolve; wrong-headed or soft-hearted expectations; balancing autonomy against family values; and adopting “hetero-normative” values without losing a minority’s cachet.

Clearly, adopting a cat would be much easier than the tasks they’ve taken on.

Realistically enough, none of their issues gets settled by play’s end: It just comes full circle from the opening dinner party. And some things, sadly, don’t get addressed at all, as when one gay father is relieved to know that his four-year-old is not gay, a flashpoint moment that the play shamelessly soft-pedals by quickly moving on.

Happily, all seven performances are collectively crafted for specificity and immediacy. We never doubt where these people come from, even as we question where they’re heading.

Some might dismiss the anxieties of this lifestyle drama — over playing parents and raising (or lowering) kids — as comparatively luxurious problems of privilege, the price of progress for 21st-century homosexuals. But About Face clearly believes there’s an interested crowd out there of neo-breeders who want to measure their hopes and hurts against those of seven characters. More power to them.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Dada Woof Papa Hot
About Face Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3; Sat at 3 (Feb 16)
ends on February 16, 2019
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit About Face

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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