This is the season of the gay dad play in New York. First was “Dada Woof Papa Hot” and “Steve,” savvy, insightful comic dramas that considered, among other things, what it’s like to be openly gay and a father in America, post-marriage equality.
Now comes “Daddy Issues,” Marshall Goldberg’s play about a gay man who acquires a son, set in 1982. But this silly, uneven endeavor, now playing at the tiny Black Box space at the Davenport Theatre, has only one thing on its mind: to tickle the funny bone. Think “My Big Fat Gay Fatherhood.”
There are multiple daddy issues on display. The play revolves around openly gay Donald Moscowitz (Yuval David), a struggling actor in his mid-20s who endures a rocky relationship with his disapproving, kvetching father. When his parents pressure him to marry a nice girl and give them the grandson they always wanted, Donald does what any self-respecting, red-blooded homosexual would do — he rents one. He hires a cute, clever 10-year old neighbor to pretend he’s his illicit son from a long-ago girlfriend. The boy’s real father, it seems, is out of the picture.
Frothy, flawed comedy examines the lighter side of being a gay dad, sort of
When Donald invites his parents (Tony Rossi and Kate Katcher) and grandma (Deb Armelino) over to his New York City apartment to meet his son, chaos ensues.
Not that it’s the kind of chaos that will surprise anyone, because “Daddy Issues” traffics in stereotypes, contrivances, and formulaic plot turns. Donald’s two closest friends are Levi (Sam Given), a sassy, swishy, self-professed female impersonator, and Henrietta (Elizabeth Klein), the stocky, possibly lesbian sidekick. I figured out the key plot resolutions well before the characters did.
Which might have been fine had the comic timing not been out of whack. Granted, I saw an early preview. I suspect the production, directed by David Goldyn, will find its rhythm later in the run.
The piece is billed as a “gay 1980s comedy” yet fails to fully capture the flavor of the era, beyond a few period pop tunes played before curtain, a wall phone with a corded handset, and some cursory cultural references like “Donahue” and the Village People. Donald’s crisp, tasteful clothes look circa 2012, not 1982.
The dedicated ensemble works hard to tackle the tricky comic material. Yuval David is highly appealing as the beleaguered Donald, who goes to incredible lengths to live up to familial expectations. To his credit, Donald never considers renouncing his homosexuality, although it’s a shame there is no mention of a boyfriend or any sort of healthy dating activity.
Sam Given delivers a welcome jolt of comic energy when he bursts on the scene as Levi’s bizarro alter ego, Ophelia Crotch.
Perhaps the most impressive turn is by Alex Ammerman as the rented son, named Johnny Walker (owing to his mom’s fondness for blended scotch, neat). Precocious without being annoying, charming without being unctuous, his Johnny registers as the smartest, most grounded character of the bunch.
Some might say that “Daddy Issues” recalls classic farces like “La Cage Aux Folles” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” My theater companion hit the nail on the head, suggesting the piece has all the comic sophistication of “Three’s Company,” the ditzy TV sitcom that indeed was on air in 1982.
DADDY ISSUES | The Black Box at Davenport Theatre, 354 W. 45th St. | Through Apr. 24: Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $35 at daddyissuestheplay.com | One hr., 50 mins., with intermission