Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daddy by Dan Via

By Joe Straw

A man I knew as my father shot and killed a man.  Moonlighting from the army, he shot this man in the head, late one night, while working as a security guard.  He took this job to support two families.  One was our family consisting of my mother and my four siblings and another family that was a secret and completely unknown to us. 

And this is something we lived with growing up in a small community in the south.  My mother regarded this as one more “family secret”.

Most seek the truth for one’s emotional wellbeing no matter the cost.

Love is a bastard.

Daddy written by Dan Via, directed by Rick Sparks, and presented by Theatre Planners is now playing to full capacity at the beautiful Hudson Theatre in Hollywood through February 13th, 2011.

The Hudson Theatre is an intimate space and the set, designed by Adam Flemming, is agreeably used for this personal drama.  But as intimate as the set may be the drama on stage leaves one unsatisfied and wanting for a better resolution.

Although there are three main characters, the focus of this play is of a young man trying to find the truth about his life.  And though finding the truth can be the emotional strength of the play it seems almost secondary in nature. 

The setting is Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in the present day.  Stewart Wisniewski (Dan Via) and Colin McCormack (Gerald McCullouch) are old college friends catching up in a bar.  We discover that after college Stewart went off to study law in Washington, D.C., and Colin returned to Pittsburg to work at The Pittsburg Post Gazette.   Each has, over the years, modest success and today they are both working in Pittsburg.

Stewart is out but seems to be a little shy about being in a gay bar whereas Colin seems to enjoy the atmosphere of having a beer, being recognized, and being around like minded people.  Stewart (Stu) tells him that he is going to California to interview for a job at Stanford.

But, during this casual bar time, Colin is confronted by an admirer, a pulchritudinous African American, Thaddeus “Tee” Bloom (Ian Verdun). Bloom is also a young writer and tells Colin that he admires his work and is going to intern at the paper.  Colin recognizes his name, says he read his work, and thinks he has a lot of promise. 

When Colin and Stewart leave, Tee examines an old Polaroid for reasons that become clear later in the play. 

Later, Colin and Stu are on the phone.  Colin tells Stu the Pittsburg Pirates game is about to begin and Stu tell him he’ll be there as quick as he can.  Ten seconds later Stu walks into the apartment.  

They are casual and comfortable with each other. They talk about fatherhood and how things might have been different had they pursue parenthood.  Stu mentions that Colin has put a lot of his sperm in a cup so maybe… 

In fact, there are a number of hints about the direction the play is taking.  So, unsurprisingly the audience is not shocked at the final outcome.  

There are a lot of good things to say about this play.  That will come later.  For now one can say there are a number of problems that need to be fixed. 

Love is a driving force that is not recognized in the play. A pat on the ass and a passionate kiss once does not make a relationship.   Showing love would add a dimension and so many layers one can hardly imagine.  But without this we are left searching for more answers than is delivered on stage.

For example, Stewart loves Colin so much he lives next door.  It must be tortuous to live next door to a man you love so much for that you cannot keep away for one second, much less a minute.  Passionate love creates an added element, makes the choices stronger, and the action more spirited.   And Stewart is so much in love with this man he can’t stand the fact that a younger man is taking his place. Without a strong emotional attachment the relationship is uninspired.    

Turning the tables to give Colin’s perspective, here’s another example: Colin is so in love with Stewart but despises him.  How dare Stewart leave him when they’ve had a passionate relationship in college?  Out of the blue, gone, and now Stewart comes back, hangs out, and wants to be with him again? And now Stewart says he’s considering a job at Stanford?  Well, just go. There’s plenty of men, in this, gay bar! 

And so, Colin finds the intern Tee.  He knows this is wrong (work and all) but urges get the better of him and so they have a passionate relationship. Tee, young, unsure and with a mystery he needs to solve, is hesitant at first but decides to go at this full force.

Now it is up to Stewart to destroy this relationship, which he systematically does without hurting either Colin or Tee.   A huge task, to be sure.

Sex is left on the “cutting room floor” in this production and this play lacks the exploration of anything new involving the relationship between three men.  However, the play does find its strength through the dialogue and the characters determination to find a resolution.

But, without lustful love, these relationships seem casual at best. The world doesn’t turn without love and the imagination to pursue love.  Love can cause people to do ridiculous things and finding the right mix in a theatrical production is worth its weight in whatever one considers valuable.

Via as Colin serves as the playwright as well. This is a difficult task, as the writer has to step back and critique his own acting.  Not impossible, but maybe not practical.   Lost is the world of the subtext of a passionate being.  His moments, meant to move the action along lie flat, the words are thrown to the winds, and the little hints that forecast the ending fly by with little forthrightness.

Verdun as Thaddeus “Tee” Bloom comes off as very flagitious for reason unknown.  In his choices to find information, he comes off as a gold digger, a sinister liar, and one who wants to get the goods on Colin no matter the cost.  Insidious and traitorous seem to be his trademarks.  He cares not for the collateral damages of emotional trauma he causes in his search for the truth. Still, his was the bright spot in this production as he manipulates his way in and tries to take over. (Also, having a character that grows up in North Carolina having an accent that is much deeper south was disconcerting.)

All this leads me to McCullouch as Colin.  Very likeable, productive, and so blinded by love he doesn’t see all that is going around him.  But the conflict cannot be as great unless he is aware of his relationship with Stewart and that is something that needs defining and worked out in rehearsal.  

Jeffrey Patrick Olson and Rene Ruiz were also part of the ensemble but seemed to have little to do with the performers on stage.

Rick Sparks, the director, shows us some clever moments but there are some moments that have little depth and are very superficial. There’s a lot more here that needs exploration.  There is more work to be done.   While there are some marvelous actions on stage, there is a significant through line missing. For now love does not move this play along.  It is a dry bed waiting for the rains to come, but one thinks one hears thunder in the background.

Daddy, performed in New York earlier and given constructive criticism in various reviews seems to have been ignored.   Keep the good, throw out the bad, and push for perfection. Very simply, theater breaks down into a mathematical equation:  Great Theatre = real life – (the boring parts).


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