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Theatre in Review: Daddy Issues (Theatre at St. Clement's)

Shua Potter, Alex Ammerman. Photo: Stephen M. Cyr

One thing you can say about Daddy Issues is that, with its cast of swishy gays, kvetching Jews, and drunken Irish, it serves as a veritable compendium of stage clich├ęs, for easy reference. Drama students could also profitably use it as a case study in how not to construct a farce. That pretty much constitutes the upside.

Donald Moscowitz is a struggling gay actor living alone in New York; we see him assiduously preparing an audition for a Friskies cat food commercial. (The author, Marshall Goldberg, previously worked in advertising, one of his accounts being, yes, Friskies.) He is interrupted by his father, Sid, a prize bully, who apparently shows up on a regular basis to undermine Donald's ambitions and complain that he won't straighten out, marry, and produce an heir. Donald, fed up with being a constant disappointment, blurts out the news that he is, indeed, a father; after he broke up with Mary Ellen, his college girlfriend, she announced that she was pregnant with his child, which she carried to term.

This news spreads like wildfire through Donald's family, all of whom demand the opportunity to meet the child, who, by now, must be ten years old. Among other things, his grandmother promises to double his inheritance. There's only one little hitch: Donald has made the whole thing up. Working with his best friends, Levi Krauss and Henrietta Hudson -- a drag queen and a wisecracking, overweight woman, of course -- Donald hatches a plot to pass off the child of a neighbor as his own offspring. Through some extremely leaden and utterly unbelievable plot contortions, the family get-together is complicated by the appearance of three different claimants to the role of Mary Ellen, followed by a soul-baring session topped by a final revelation that you won't believe, even if you can see it coming from a mile away.

Quite apart from its poor construction, Goldberg's script contains some of the lamest gags in town. Sid is a manufacturer of industrial parts, including steel balls, which allows him to announce, "My balls are the best in the business!" Marion, Donald's mother, is a walking Jewish-mother gag; when the doorbell rings, she says, "Get the door and I'll scrub your bathroom." If Grandma Moscowitz complains about her bladder dropping once, she does so fifteen times. The little boy dragged into this charade has an alcoholic mother, so his name is Johnny Walker. Someone announces that their favorite play is "Mooning for the Misbegotten." Everyone is worried about circumcision, so we are treated to the spectacle of various adults trying to pull down the pants of a middle-school-age kid.

The director, David Goldyn, seems to have encouraged his cast to behave like a cartoon, but, really, it's hard to know what else they could do. I will add that the design is as crude as the performances. Daddy Issues is set in 1982, and most of its jokes would have seemed moldy even in that long-ago year. I have no idea for whom this play was written, but if anything in the above paragraphs amuses you, there's plenty more of it at the Theatre at St. Clement's. -- David Barbour

(18 October 2016)

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