First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage: Epic’s Dada Woof Papa Hot examines everything that arrives with the baby carriage

Dada Woof Papa Hot is a humorous and thoughtful slice of the LGTBQ struggle for mainstream bliss that any parent can identify with.

Epic ends its 9th season with Peter Parnell’s Dada Woof Papa Hot, a beautifully executed piece of storytelling from start to finish.

A relatively new work by Parnell, Dada Woof Papa Hot was first produced in 2015 at The Lincoln Center in DC. Parnell shares the story of one year with Rob and Alan, parents to 3-year-old Nicola. Their search for camaraderie and support within the NYC community of gay parents becomes a deeper reflection on the intrinsic struggles of parenting.

Kevin Broccoli, the artistic director of Epic who also plays Rob, commented on the play. “Dada Woof Papa Hot (is) one of the first plays to examine what happens after gay marriage. It asks the question: What happens when we get what we thought we wanted?”

Broccoli’s choice of this production, directed by Theodore Clement, is timing perfection in light of recent local events. He couldn’t have anticipated joining others in going nose to nose with Bishop Tobin when he was choosing Epic’s season; however, the production’s honest and thoughtful reflection on the complications in front of gay parents today is apt.

“The fight is far from over,” says Broccoli, “but within the strides we’ve made lay a new set of problems, many of them brought about because of the hold heteronormative culture has on the institution of marriage and parenting. The characters in this play are grappling with how to maintain their identities while adjusting to a new reality, and it’s forcing them to examine their personal convictions about monogamy, domesticity and mortality. “

Parnell’s aim may have been to illuminate the struggle of gay parents specifically, but the themes examined extend far beyond any one group. Maintaining a healthy self-identity while successfully navigating parenting can be like searching for a unicorn. Both are illusive and mysterious.

This struggle is felt most keenly in the journey of Alan, played by Terry Shea. Alan is a managing but unsatisfied writer who feels out of place in the family he and partner Rob have built. Like so many dads he is isolated from those closest to him, as if an appendage to other relationships. Shea’s performance is subtle and powerful, offering nuance to a complex character.

Both Shea and Broccoli are strong actors who accomplished considered and genuine performances. A talented ensemble further elevates their work. Melanie Stone and Jay Are Adams offer complementary performances as Serena and Michael, long time friends and fellow parents. Their story line in many ways mirrors and informs that of Rob and Alan by providing humor and perspective. Kerry Giorgi is hilarious as Julia. And Nick D’Amico and Alvaro Beltran were tragically lovely together as Scott and Jason.

One of the exceptional qualities of this production was the balance of simple elements. The acting beautifully illuminated a well-crafted story. But what elevates a production best is when the production choices all enhance the story. Some productions call for flashy production elements and pyrotechnics. Some are enriched by simple production choices that sing.

Thus is the case with the scene design for Dada Woof Papa Hot. It sang. Katie Russell elevated the simple theater cube to an art form. A simple city skyline painted on stage cubes was the opening backdrop. The blocks were then re-imagined for a collection of varied locations from the standard playground bench to a Michelin star restaurant.

The creative use of the stage cubes in and of itself was hardly new or exciting. They are by nature intended for versatility. It was the style of the choices that stood out. Adding and removing minor set dressing and a few sides painted thoughtfully accented the environment to transport us to the world of the play.

Additionally, New York City has a life of its own that has a way of shaping its inhabitants. The energy and personality of the city inform their lives and experiences. Using elements of the city to construct each scene was a clever way to weave that energy throughout the production, even if subconsciously.

Another subtle and successful production choice was in the sound design. The music choices successfully set an appropriate tone for each scene without being distracting. It’s an easy element to forget about and there are several moments where a beautifully executed sound cue elevated the emotion of a scene perfectly.

Basically, there is a perfect evening out waiting for you and your favorite parent friends. Bring your dry wit, grab some Thai at 4 Seasons, then head over to Theatre 82 at the Artists’ Exchange.

Epic’s Dada Woof Papa Hot plays through June 22, at the Artists’ Exchange 82 Rolfe St in Cranston. Tickets may be reserved at 401-490-9475 or by visiting artists-exchange.org.

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