Conor McShane is a Chicago-based playwright, actor, and musician. A native of Michigan, Conor's plays have been produced by numerous companies throughout his home state, including Tipping Point Theatre, Fancy Pants Theater, Western Michigan University, and at the Renegade Theatre Festival. Since relocating to Chicago, his short plays have been produced by Dandelion Theatre (The Coat Check, The Hot Dog Stand), Thorpedo Productions (Love in 90 Minutes), and at the Twelve Ways to Play one-act festival. Most recently, his full-length play The Letter G was presented as a staged reading by Coffee & Whiskey Productions. He lives with his partner and closest collaborator, Leslie Hull, and a temperamental cat named Cheena.
Pictured: Shane Kenyon and Bruch Thomas Reed. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Conor McShane
While same-sex couples’ right to marry is a very recent development, same-sex partnerships have existed for millennia. So what is it about the institution of marriage, a document affirming a union’s legitimacy and legality, that makes even long-term partnerships feel different? And what does this mean for gay couples, for whom the very act of forming a union of any kind has been considered rebellious for centuries? And where does the added complication of kids fall into that?
Peter Parnell’s DADA WOOF PAPA HOT, presented in its Chicago premiere by About Face Theatre, explores these questions, among many others, over its hour-and-fifty-minute runtime. At its heart, its concerns are fairly common: fidelity in long term relationships, juggling commitment to a partner and commitment to children, fears whether or not your child loves you; but when looked at through the lens of same-sex marriages, these concerns take on a fresh light.
The play follows a year in the life of three well-to-do New York couples—two gay, one straight. In the former camp are Alan (Bruch Reed), a freelance writer and veteran of the 80s New York gay scene, and Rob (Benjamin Sprunger), a successful psychiatrist and principal breadwinner for their young daughter Nicola. At the top of the show, they’re having a dinner date with their new fellow dad friends Scott (Jos N. Banks), a financial something-or-other (nobody really knows what exactly he does), and Jason (Shane Kenyon), an up-and-coming painter. We’re also introduced in short order to married couple Michael (Keith Kupferer), a successful composer with a show on Broadway, and Serena (Lily Mojekwu), who have two kids of their own. Each partnership seems to have one half going through some kind of existential crisis—whether it’s Alan fretting that Nicola has bonded with Rob and not him, Jason’s desire to have a more sexually open marriage, or Michael’s insecurities over a bad review—that cause them to act out in ways that are fairly boilerplate as far as long-term relationships go. The play makes frequent mention of this fact, with characters acknowledging the mundane nature of affairs and midlife crises.
The trick with this kind of material is threading the needle between presenting a fresh take on a well-worn story or falling into cliche, and DADA WOOF PAPA HOT largely stays in the former camp. As a twenty-eight year-old hetero man who is neither married nor has children, I fully admit that my perspective is quite limited in this case, but Parnell’s script and Keira Fromm’s careful direction, not to mention the strong and empathic performances of the actors, make these struggles feel lived-in and relatable. While this material is nothing particularly new (there have been so many infidelity stories on stage and screen that it’s a pretty tired vehicle for drama at this point), the mundanity feels purposeful.
Much like seeing a romantic comedy that happens to have a same-sex central couple without making the story explicitly about that fact can feel radical by its very nature, seeing this story centered on people who are still figuring out what it even means to have the ability to legally marry makes these discussions feel more momentous than they would if we were solely watching straight couples go through this same trials. In this way, DADA WOOF PAPA HOT performs an act of radical normalization, presenting its central couples’ conflicts as not unlike those of any married couple, albeit with the weight of years of struggle behind it.
Parnell’s script touches on a lot of interesting subjects—the generational divide between gay men, the balance of individual and couple identity, the separation of sexual desire and romantic love—any of which could probably support a play on its own. As such, it’s hard not to wish the play’s focus were a bit tighter, but it’s always preferable for a script to be overstuffed with ideas than have too few. DADA WOOF PAPA HOT is an important story to watch onstage because of, rather than in spite of, its ordinariness.
DADA WOOF PAPA HOT runs through February 16. For more information visit aboutfacetheatre.com.