Peter Parnell has been writing plays, television scripts, books to musicals, and winning two Emmy Awards citations for his work as co–producer of The West Wing. I remember admiring his early play The Sorrows of Stephen which started him off with a success in 1979 at the Public Theatre. His new work, now playing at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater takes him into new territory, the very topical world of marriage and children in the gay community.
Dada Woof Papa Hot is one of several works dealing with this very current new subject. Plays like Steve, films like “Carol,’ and any number of other projects dealing with the once-underground stories of gay and lesbian relationships under the recent changes in attitude toward gay marriage and parenthood. The title of this literate and lively play derives from the first four words uttered by the daughter of a gay couple. We never meet Nicola, the little girl whose utterances form the title, but her Dada (not to be confused with her Papa) explains that Woof refers to the scary wolf in Peter and the Wolf, and Hot describes the radiator in her bedroom.
The story covers a year in New York City where these two men are exploring the challenges posed by this new element of society, that of same sex parenting. No more closets, no more pretending, no more not even dreaming of home and hearth, complete with surrogate mothers, sperm contributing dads, child rearing stay-at-home fathers and breadwinner mothers. It all sounds marvelously progressive, and as we pass through this year with these characters, six friends comprising three couples, we learn a lot about the dynamics of these newly acceptable relationships.
There are Rob and Alan, and time will tell that the addition of Nicola to their family will not quite work out the way they had hoped it would. There is a younger couple, Scott and Jason, still working through their attempt to form a cohesive family unit. And there are Michael and Serena, a straight couple, who must deal with the wandering eye that Michael does not see the need to control. Mr. Parnell is warning us to be careful about what we wish for, for nowadays many of those wishes are going to be granted.. It’s the results that are unpredictable, and the myth that freedom from constraint is ok, well — proceed at your own risk.
Under Scott Ellis’ assured direction, this one hundred minute one-acter covers a lot of territory, acted out mostly in dinner and cocktail parties in the upper middle class milieu of New York City.
John Lee Beatty’s settings that roll on and off smoothly make clear the physical world for these people who are all educated, well-traveled, urbane and aware, and brave enough to test the waters of their 21st century time of greater acceptance of unconventional family units. A fine cast has been assembled, and the dialogue splashes like champagne on ice.
John Benjamin Hickey won himself a Tony Award for his excellent work in The Normal Heart and he and Patrick Breen form one mature and likable couple, now legally tied, and learning that children can not only bond a couple, they can also cause seismic shifts. Stephen Plunkett and Alex Hurt are a younger couple enjoying the early stages of a proper marriage with all its joys and surprising adjustments. John Panko, Kellie Overbey, and Tammy Blanchard complete this septet of well-grounded actors who play as a smooth unit, presenting an interesting sampling of a very modern segment of society, well realized. I felt I knew these people. They were truly recognizable and as with any group of friends or colleagues, each of us is going to have a favorite or two, but is that not always the case when we are exposed to people in our own lives?
The concerns of gay couples over the yeas and nays of this new form of family life are not major concerns for the rest of the world, but when presented to us with well-acted, illuminating dialog, I found myself interested in following these seven people, curious about their responses to the well plotted story of this particular year’s journey.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Dada Woof Papa Hot plays through January 3, 2016, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre – 150 West 65th Street, in New York City. For tickets, call Telecharge at (212) 239.6200, or purchase them online.