Ryan J. Haddad’s incredible one-person show, Hi, Are You Single?, is the first time any performer has set foot on the Woolly Mammoth stage since March 2020. This gem of a show, presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in association with IAMA Theatre Company, is an ideal baptism for the Woolly stage in the quarantine era.
Directed by Laura Savia and Jess McLeod, Hi, Are You Single? tackles the thorny intersection of queerness and disability, extracting meaning from intimacy, and the universal pain of being judged.
The subjects are weighty, but Ryan Haddad never dips into heavy-handedness or preachy lectures. Instead, the autobiographical solo show proceeds with a light touch. It is Haddad’s style, wit, and immense vulnerability that elevates Hi, Are You Single? into a hugely moving and entertaining performance.
You may recognize Haddad from his television roles on The Politician, Madam Secretary, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. As a gay man of Middle Eastern descent whose voice and body are visibly affected by cerebral palsy, Haddad feels stalked by his difference. After he came out to his mother (he recounts), she began to cry and said, “Now you’re different in two ways.”
From the first moment, Haddad is radically vulnerable. In fact, the first image of Ryan is pantsless, stroking his bulge through tight jockey shorts, as he sexts with a stranger on Grindr. Plunging into the masturbatory deep end from the get-go, show can proceed the rest of the way with no awkwardness — only bracing realness.
Haddad takes us on a journey through his (lack of) sex life and an endless sequence of gay bars, each with its own pounding lights (lighting design by Colin K. Bills) and music (sound design by Tosin Olufolabi). Ryan emerges as a charming combination of a hopeless romantic and raging horndog. He has a series of hopeful interactions with men (“Hi, are you single?”), each one more horrifying than the last. At one spot, a man tells Ryan that he has a boyfriend, but it’s okay because “he would never imagine I’m interested in someone like you.”
This COVID-era production of Hi, Are You Single? was performed with a limited, socially distanced audience (mostly Woolly Mammoth staff and artists). I found the presence of an audience to be critical. It allowed for audience participation and added crucial texture to the virtual show. It convinced me that, if possible, all performing artists should attempt at least a few audience members to help revitalize the difficult medium of virtual theater.
At one moment, Ryan invites an audience member — in this case, the show’s scenic and costume designer, Lawrence E. Moten III — to dance with him. As they gently sway and spin, Ryan asks Lawrence a series of questions: Are you single? Where did you two meet? Is your boyfriend at the show tonight? Haddad recounts a previous performance when the man he invited to dance turned out to have cerebral palsy, too.
In this poignant moment, it becomes clear how vital representation on stage and screen is for all of us. Hi, Are You Single? isn’t good simply because it features a gay man with a disability; however, it is remarkable because of that fact. It is a big step in the right direction to produce theater by artists like Ryan Haddad who, until very recently, weren’t afforded platforms at all, let alone the Woolly Mammoth stage.
A preshow speech is delivered by Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director María Manuela Goyanes, who reminds us that the virtual show we are about to see won’t be like sitting in a live theater. That’s true — I couldn’t stop the noise of traffic or my cat crawling in front of my screen.
However, out of all the virtual theater I’ve witnessed this pandemic, Hi, Are You Single? was the most successful at recreating the ineffable feeling of a live theater experience. There were times that I found myself lost in the show, almost feeling the dark and the quiet around me. Almost feeling like Ryan Haddad was speaking directly to me. And that is an experience that all performing artists should aspire to provoke.
Hi, Are You Single? was recorded with a limited live audience and will be available for streaming on demand until 11:59 pm ET February 28, 2021. Virtual tickets may be purchased at woollymammoth.net, by phone at (202) 393-3939, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Captioning and audio description are available.