We gave it an A
“We have rules, Scott and me,” Jason says. He’s a hunky painter, married to Scott, a private-equity guy, and he’s talking to Alan, half of another, slightly older gay couple, people they know as fellow parents. Alan has invited Jason for coffee after school drop-off, and Jason has just kissed him.
“We set them up after we first got together, and kept them,” Jason continues. “At first, it bothered Scott, so we went into therapy together. Eventually, we sort of worked out an understanding. Then we both decided we wanted to get married. So they mostly come down to what I can and cannot do. And fucking is definitely a cannot. Whereas kissing, squeezing tits, getting blown (but not blowing), fingering (but not licking) ass are allowed.”
Alan, a writer, and his husband, Rob, a psychiatrist, are monogamous. “That last one must have taken a lot of negotiating,” Alan says.
In today’s urban yuppie gay world — where half of one’s friends are throwing Sunday Styles weddings, half are Grindring their days away, and another half are doing both — it all takes a lot of negotiating. And Peter Parnell’s excellent, clear-eyed, and thoughtful Dada Woof Papa Hot, which opens tonight at Lincoln Center Theater’s off-Broadway Mitzi Newhouse Theater, is the first major theatrical production I’ve seen that explores this modern reality of gay life.
Alan (a fantastic John Benjamin Hickey) and Rob (Patrick Breen, also excellent) are at the center of this play, a couple in their late 40s — Alan is a bit older — who are new dads; their daughter, Nicola, is occasionally heard but never seen. They meet and befriend the younger Jason (Alex Hurt) and Scott (Stephen Plunkett), who have two young sons. They’re pleased to have other gay-dad friends, going through similar things, and they’re also close to Alan’s college roommate Michael (John Pankow) and Serena (Kellie Overbey), who are having their own problems as they’re raising their children.
Over dinners and outings with their new friends, and with their old ones, Alan and Rob hash out what it means to be parents after a lifetime in which that wasn’t a possibility, and what it means when your child replaces you as the most important person in your partner’s world. The singularity of gay life is highlighted — Alan muses about the old days, when being gay was defined by being promiscuous, a world that he didn’t want to be a part of and that Jason and Scott never knew — but so is its current similarity to straight life. Rob and Serena are both deeply involved and connected parents — in places other than New York, they’d be called neurotic — and Alan and Michael feel similarly disenfranchised, and similarly seek solace elsewhere. (Tammy Blanchard has a funny turn as Michael’s paramour, a brash TV actress.)
Dada Woof Papa Hot — the awkward title refers to Nicola’s first words, but also what every gay dad wants to hear — is funny, sure, and it’s insightful, and it’s ably directed by Scott Ellis on a moving, interlocking, real-estate fantasy of a set by John Lee Beatty. But what makes the play most remarkable is how directly it speaks to today’s weirdly bifurcated, marriage-and-negotiation gay moment.
Joshua Harmon’s charming Significant Other, off-Broadway at the Roundabout this summer, was about a young gay man coming to grips with himself and yearning for a boyfriend — a moving play but not new territory. Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, on Broadway last season, was essentially a 1980s AIDS play, awkwardly updated for a post-Windsor era. The closest antecedent I can think of to Dada Woof is Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, which ran in 2009 and 2010 (and also starred Breen, in an equally charming-nebbish role), about the relationship between an entirely secular gay man and his deeply religious boyfriend. That play, too, felt unusually contemporary, even if I never quite believed it. (Who knows any deeply religious people among Manhattan gay men?) But Dada Woof is a version of conversations that are happening today, all the time, over cocktails and brunches and hookup apps across the city.
Or, as should be said, across certain parts of the city. Dada Woof is about a very specific slice of the gay world, or of any world: well-off, white, nannied, prewar-ed. It is on one hand a remarkable social commentary that it feels not at all exceptional for Lincoln Center Theater, the most stolidly, senior-citizenly uptown of New York’s resident companies, to produce a play about nonmonogamous gay dads. On the other hand, it’s still stolid Lincoln Center Theater. These are the gay men its audience knows.
When he finally tires of the rules he’d so painstakingly negotiated with Jason, Scott explodes. “And anyway,” he asks, “isn’t being normal the most radical thing of all?” The question of the play is what, for these very normal guys — for a lot of very normal guys — constitutes normal, and how much normal can be negotiated.
In the end, Jason and Scott’s rules don’t protect them. Alan and Rob’s “normalcy” does, in exactly the same way it does for their straight best friends. At Lincoln Center, at least, that’s how it’s bound to end up.