by Steve Nardoni
Many of us have a hard time looking back 30 years, and in particular to the 1980s where memories from back then were blurred by Slippery Nipples and nose candy. But even prior to curtain up (there is no curtain, actually) the new, fun-filled production Daddy Issues (playing through November 7 at St. Clement’s) gets us into that decade with soundtracks like “Upside Down,” “Boy from New York City,” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Speaking of the lack of curtain, it gave us the chance to really check out the set, a tastefully appointed 80s apartment with walls the color of coral. Later on in the play we were disenchanted to be informed that the color was “cantaloupe,” not coral.
So the stage is set for a look-see at the conundrum facing Donald Moskowitz (Matt Koplik). Donald is an aspiring actor who seems comfortable in his own skin being a gay man who likes to interior decorate. But annoyingly overbearing parents want him to ante up a grandson for them, (and a great grandson for Grandma Moskowitz who we are constantly reminded has a “dropped bladder” and no reason to live). As many biological families did back then, they all dismiss the fact that he is gay, and his dad, Sid, insists that he “man up” and father a child. Not so much for Donald’s sake but more for Sid (Toni Rossi); Donald’s mom, Marion (Kate Katcher); and Grandma/Bubbe (Deb Armelino). Sid is particularly nonplussed that Donald opted for “fruity” cantaloupe wall paint over a more “masculine” color.
While Donald practices for a cat food commercial (mewing required!) Sid continues to browbeat poor Donald about his career, where he lives, and that elusive grandson. Exasperated, Donald creates the fiction that he fathered a son 10 years ago. Sid is cluelessly ebullient and shares con brio the fab news with Donald’s mom and Bubbe. They all descend on Donald, kvelling to no end with Grandma’s pledge to double Donald’s inheritance.
Co-dependency flourishes as Donald, seeing how happy his family would be, seeks the help of his non-traditional family (hysterical Levi Krauss, the nellie drag queen played by Shua Kraus; and spot-on Henrietta Hudson (Elizabeth Klein), who would have been identified in that era with the slur, “fag hag.”) Together they scheme to hire a boy from the building (Johnny Walker, named so by his hard-drinking mom) as a surrogate son to be named Ryan McGuire. Alex Ammerman as the 10-year-old Johnny/Ryan captures the characteristics essential for his role: ingenuity laced with cunning, and a knack for relating to his surrogate dad.
Then the real fun begins. Levi and Henrietta vie for the role of the fictional Ryan’s mom, Mary Ellen McGuire, the college sweetheart Donald dumped when he came out of the closet. With nods to La Cage Aux Folles and Noises Off, we welcome from the stage the bombardment of three Mary Ellen McGuires and calculatingly hysterical ethnic and general humor. Written by Marshall Goldberg and directed/produced by David Goldwyn, there are a whole host of Daddy Issues: circumcision, fageleh interior designers, a drag queen and that that damned dropped bladder. All of which contribute to an evening of merriment.
Despite what potentially could have been unhappiness and estrangement for Donald, the plot neatly ices the cake and lights the candles to celebrate families: family of origin and family of choice. Gay men have learned to survive—then and now—by forming families beyond their biological families. Certainly a few may find Daddy Issues a bit dated, particularly through the lens of 2016, but for me it was funny and sweet theater.
Daddy Issues. Through November 9 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). www.DaddyIssuesthePlay.com
Photos: Stephen M. Cyr