Dan Via, Gerald McCullouch and Bjorn DuPaty in Daddy. Photo by Eduardo Placer.
BOTTOM LINE: A well acted and directed production, which brings up some interesting ideas, and then drifts a bit into improbable-coincidence territory.
The TBG Arts Center on 36th street is a classic New York theatre – it's a third floor walk-up space, converted into a theater by stripping it down to the brick, adding some raked seating, and painting the walls black. There are about 25-30 stage lights, no wing space, and a lobby of polished concrete. This is how real theatre-types like it – simple and raw, with the weight of the evening's entertainment squarely on the actors and the writer, not the producers and marketers.
Daddy, the first play from veteran actor Dan Via, fits perfectly into this world. It's a simple three-hander for strong actors with witty, well-paced dialogue, and an interesting take on a contemporary idea at its center.
Colin (a salt-and-pepper bearded McCullough – in fit and fine shape, both physically and acting-wise) and Stew (a snappy, if somewhat less robust Mr. Via) are late 40's-ish best friends. Gay men of a new era, they have been out since they were teens, and the acceptance or rejection of their families is only a subplot in their stories rather than the overriding theme, as with characters in other gay plays. Both successful intellectuals in Pittsburgh, they look much like a married couple, with a long past together and the settled rhythms of domestic life in their future. In reality, their romantic history is checkered, and they have drifted into a kind of platonic banter-fest, each secretly harboring feelings for the other as they stand on the frontlines of the gay marriage debate.
When Tee (recent Rutgers grad Bjorn Patty, who quite ably holds his own with the more experienced men in the cast), an energetic young intern at the newspaper whose enthusiasm for all things Colin enters the picture, things change quickly. Flattered at the attention of this attractive younger man, and strangely protective of Tee's keen interest in his very functional and happy youth, Colin quickly abandons his alley-catting with the bi-curious straight boys on his soccer team and begins to fall fast in love. Stew, quietly jealous of both men, struggles with the feeling that something is awry in this flash-romance, even as he confronts the opportunity to leave Colin and the city for a lucrative and high-profile academic appointment at Stanford.
Are you sensing a familiar pattern here? You should be. Despite toying with some interesting notions of modern gay men's approach to daddy issues, both romantic and familial, the play's episodic structure (there are at least 15 scenes in 90 minutes, each interrupted by the crisply choreographed yet ultimately unnecessary, changing of scenic elements by two black-clad crew members) and exposition-heavy narrative tips us off early that this is really a TV script. We sense early on that we are bound to have a Great Reveal in the penultimate scene, and we do. It's a whopper, slightly hard to believe at first, but rife with thematic implications that don't quite get tied up by play's end.
That said, McCullough and Via's nuanced performances, David Hilder's attentive direction and Patty's muscular emotions make for a potent stew. If this story is built like a TV movie, the experience of this production is a great reminder why the stage is simply superior to any other narrative media: these actors are real, their emotions are real, their tears are real, and those of us who have the pleasure of experiencing them are made more real and more whole for having been in the theatre for the night.
Say you've got a friend from back home who loves the theatre, always wanted to move to New York and try out the artiste's life, but never got the chance. Take them down to TBG and check out Daddy. The story won't change their life, but the whole experience might give them a slice of what they always wanted.
(Daddy plays at the TBG Arts Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor, between 8th and 9th Avenues, through February 13, 2010. Performances are every day except Tuesday at 8pm. Tickets are $18. Running time is approximately ninety minutes. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.daddytheplay.com, or call 212.868.4444)