Heather Green, Shayne Brakefield, & Brent Gettelfinger. Photo: Pandora Productions.
Dada Woof Papa Hot
By Peter Parnell
Directed by Michael J. Drury
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright, © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Marriages fail for many reasons, or perhaps, more often than not, it boils down to the fear that you have sacrificed something for that commitment, and you want another chance to get it back. And if you have children, the weight is much greater.
That idea is at the core of Peter Parnell’s Dada Woof Papa Hot, a mostly comic deconstruction of the matrimonial dynamic for today. Alan (Shayne Brakefield) and Rob (Drew Sutherland) are the parents of a young girl whom Rob struggles to connect with. As the play opens, they are dining with Scott (Jason Cooper) and Jason (Mitchell Martin), who has a boy and a girl. Another couple, Alan’s oldest friend Michael (Brent Gettelfinger) and Serena (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) have a daughter, but the shadow if infidelity rears its ugly head in their relationship, and then spreads like a virus.
On one level Parnell’s story covers overly familiar territory: how many tales of unfaithfulness and betrayal have been written about marriage? That two of the couples are gay men gives this entry some different textures, but part of the point seems to be that you should be careful what you wish for. What was previously hetero-normative is now for everybody, or as one character states, for gays, “isn’t wanting to be normal the most radical thing?”
After years of fighting for the right to marry, gay men and women can now claim the same happiness, but they also must own the strain of dysfunctionality that plagues this bedrock “institution” of American society. For all of the hypocrisy of opponents of marriage equality, what better way to break down archaic stereotypes of deviant, predatory homosexuals intent on undermining traditional values? Gays in America simply wanting to join into the most conservative social construct should have been welcomed.
Parnell strikes a careful balance in the four couples that are examined here. One more character, Julia (Heather Green) is present in the funniest scene, although we never meet her husband. Julia is an actress, and Green skillfully illustrates how much of a role she plays in her offstage life as well. It’s an important point to make because Parnell seems to be suggesting that most, if not all of us might be playing a role in our “real” lives. And that is part of the problem. We subjugate our own wants and desires to be the partner or parent that someone else needs us to be, instead of being true to ourselves. Then when a pretty face turns our head, we risk everything.
Dada’s journey from social comedy to something more dramatic demands care in the playing, and director Michael J. Drury teases delicate but forceful work from his cast. Shayne Brakefield and Drew Sutherland navigate the dialogue with confidence, mining the words for insight into the characters and their relationship. Mitchell Martin brings a hint of the devil to Jason, foreshadowing much of the upcoming narrative, while Jason Cooper invests Scott with enough integrity to build the foundation for the self-righteous indignation and rage to come.
The two women are far less developed in the writing and serve as much to chart some of the clichés of parenting, but Mandi Elkins Hutchins and Heather Green are equipped with the flair and comic timing to make the most of their time onstage. Brent Gettlefinger makes Michael a somewhat pitiable figure. A man with little enough self-awareness of the poor decisions he is making.
Mr. Drury’s set design is a simple array of oversize children’s blocks and a few pieces of furniture occupying a quad of bold colors. It effectively represents the children who are talked about but never seen.
As familiar as the dynamic in these relationships can feel, we always find ourselves in such stories, and Parnell weaves a detailed and individual narrative fabric around the tropes of domesticity and parenting. Dada Woof Papa Hot will resonate deeply with everyone who has found themselves building a life and family.
Dada Woof Papa Hot
January 11 – 26, 2019
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets go to Pandoraproductions.org
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.