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“Daddy” A Melodrama

 Ronald Peet      Photos Monique Carboni


“Daddy”  A Melodrama


                              By David Schultz


Well at least the gorgeous full-length pool looks inviting. Set designer Matt Saunders has created a whopper of an eye candy environment. Set in the outdoor environs of a swanky Bel Air, Los Angeles mansion the pool in question beckons invitingly. With a distinct patina of the famous David Hockney painting as its inspiration, I’d dare say the setting is one of the most inspired visual designs of the spring season. Would that the play that is contained within the glistening ripples of water would be worth your time…. but alas. On paper, at least this drama of interracial sexual and artistic stirrings of a young man filled with heat and passion about his creative prowess comingled with his attraction to an older man who owns Tre expensive galleries and collects wildly expensive art should prove at the very least an intriguing evening. Power plays, ownership, motherlove, unknown fathers, underlying issues…unresolved guilt, shame, fear, butt spanking…..oh yea, and thumb sucking are all on view. It goes downhill from there if you didn’t guess by now. Director Danya Taylor does move the action throughout the interminable evening in a sinuous way, but the end result leaves the audience drained and tired with no genuine ideas to wrestle with on the way home.


Andre (Alan Cumming) the above mentioned wealthy older gent…late 50ish meets a young studly African American artist named Franklin (Ronald Peet) at a party. We find them making out as they dance around the pool with primitive urges. Franklin, poor and hungry for fame is dazzled by this older gent, and is equally in awe of his art collection. Their passion is undeniable, yet very unequal. The relationship grows over the vignette like first act, but it is obvious that the paternal and infantile are on the way to a queasy pseudo sadomasochistic relationship. Drug-fueled sex is driving the duo during their courtship. (Be warned, this play contains copious amounts of nudity…full male nudity, with excessive amounts of genitalia flapping in the wind). Oddly the full onslaught of naked writhings with added scenes of full-on sex in the pool, major butt slapping and long passionate kisses work in the opposite effect. Sexual yes, erotic no. Andre is madly in love/lust and proceeds to groom his younger protegee for potential stardom.



Along for the ride are Franklin’s equally young BBFs Max (Tommy Dorfman) and Bellamy (Kahyun Kim). They join Franklin poolside sipping extraordinarily expensive champagne and snacking on sushi as they dither in their self-absorbed shallow musings. Floating about them is an overly effusive art gallery owner Alessia (Hari Nef) who is convinced the young artist at hand is about to break thru to fame with his paintings and crudely  constructed African American dolls. Later on, in the play, much larger life-sized effigies are trotted out with “Uber Significance”. Sugar Daddy and young Turk… where is the aforementioned Melodrama? 



It appears mid pool in the opening of the Second Act. Zora (Charlayne Woodard) Franklin’s bible toting, equally verbose Mama has come to visit. She wants her baby back and means to get it by any means possible. In short scenes with Andre and her son, this psychodrama attempts to wring out an emotional duel of wills. The inherent power struggle and dynamics are dragged on…and on…and on interminably. The verbal arias given to Franklin and his mother are intricate and dense, with an occasional witty moment here and there. But overall, as the evening progresses the production grates and wears out its welcome.



 To give extra heft and a pinch of musical interlude, the play integrates a gospel-singing trio throughout the evening. Dancing in flowing robes the aforementioned Gospel Choir (Carrie Compere, Denise Manning, Onyie Nwachukwa) form a musical backdrop at various moments. They are most likely posited as Franklin’s inner Greek Chorus. At one-point Andre in his frequent nude perambulations stands mid pool microphone in hand and croons George Michael’s “Father Figure” to his young artist. As you can see this phantasmagoric treatise on fame, art, daddy issues, sex, and desire is a heady mix. More a mashup actually. In the final third act a birthday party morphs into a surreal “Last Supper” scenario that goes on interminably. The thing is…there is so much that could have been unearthed with the material at hand. Twenty-Nine-year-old playwright Jeremy O. Harris is the hot playwright at the moment. His provocative and shocking “Slave Play” was a huge sold-out hit last year. But this lugubrious lump was Harris’s first foray into drama and presumably helped him get into Yale. The obvious symbolism, visual doppelgangers in those life size dolls, unending beaux arts chattering from all in attendance, and thick magic marker underlining themes of emotional and psychological damage from parents that are transferred to their kin are all hung to dry. This Three-Hour slog meanders through all of this carnage. Small bits of fun, with snarky asides are peppered on occasion, but the end result of this excruciating evening is Psych 101. Redux Ad nauseam.             


Pershing Square Signature Center/ The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre

480 West 42nd Street


Running Time 2 Hour 50 Min


Runs through March 30th