By Margret Echeveria
Daddy Issues opens with an argument between our hero, aspiring actor Donald Moscowitz (David Yuval), and his modern Jewish, but fiercely traditional (like Eisenhower), father, Sid Moscowitz (Tony Rossi). This opening scene is painful because it is too long and the stakes as presented by the actors are not high enough. The 1980’s was an era in which a gay son would struggle against the conventional trappings of his father as much as against the walls of his tiny New York apartment where the entire show takes place. The former nuisance is the subject of the argument until, finally, it is admitted that if our hero would just produce an off-spring, all would be well. Yuval was either badly guided by director, David Goldyn, or bad at taking direction as his character is never fully “camp” nor fully “straight-acting.” A complete commitment to either choice would have worked and given us the comic tension begged by the script. We suspect that Rossi’s choices would have landed better if Yuval had gone with a straight-acting gay character. Rossi’s performance is so one note that it is a relief to see him leave the stage.
Enter the friends of our hero, the absolutely brilliant drag queen, Levi Krauss (Sam Given) and whip smart fag hag, Henrietta (Elizabeth Klein), who help dream up the invention of a ten year old son to present to the Moscowitz clan for not just the purposes of parental appeasement but a doubled inheritance. The script demands that Given deliver heinous insults to Klein’s Henrietta. The insults are fat jokes and they don’t work because they don’t go all the way to the land of mean nor are they in the camps of dark humor or fun ribbing.
The invention of the ten year old son for Donald Moscowitz is manifested in a neighbor’s boy, Johnny Walker (Alex Ammerman in this reviewed performance; Austin Levine sometimes plays this role). Henrietta is dispatched to fetch him because, we presume, she’s a girl and good at taking orders. Ammerman’s character is steadfastly against the idea of lying and then suddenly all for it. The transition is awkward and totally rushed, needing the simplest script fix – like more emphasis on the monetary bribe. However, Ammerman is a sharp actor who has great physical expression and bright energy upon the stage. He is endearing as the young boy and the script calls for a real connection to be made with Donald over the course of the play, but Yuval misses the mark almost entirely until the final moment of the show.
Pleasure can be found in the women of this cast. Beginning with Klein as the young fag hag struggling to find her voice and strength in a 1980’s superficial culture which does not appreciate her body. Marion Moscowitz (Kate Katcher) is that eternally optimistic mother who embodies that fix-it-all-with-love-and-gift-wrapped-presents mission perfectly. Grandma Moscowitz (Deb Armelino in this reviewed performance; Mary Ellen Ashley sometimes plays this role) beautifully demonstrates the Margaret Mitchell theory – a child is more like his grandparent than his parent. Armelino creates a delightful matriarch who is over formalities, sweetly outrageous and seeks to buy the empathy of everyone with humor about her humors. She had the audience in stitches and wanting to hug her. Mary Ellen McGuire (Megan MacPhee), the ex-girlfriend, is a character we expect to hate when we hear about her neglect of her child for the bottle, but when we see MacPhee for the first time, we like her. She gently humanizes her addiction (this is a comedy, folks) and we sure hope she makes it.
But the true gem and genius of this production is Given. His drag queen is a total pleasure. He is enjoying himself, enjoying the audience and thoroughly adorable except when throwing insults at Klein. He often caused us to scream with joyous laughter and many were on their feet for him at curtain call. We will be seeing more of Given for years to come.
Daddy Issues is a good effort; good story idea, comes full circle, takes you on a silly ride. If you don’t mind a little struggle in your entertainment and you want to support talent and a script that will eventually find its way home with just a weensy bit of development, slap a few bucks down on this one.
Daddy Issues – By Marshall Goldberg; directed by David Goldyn
WITH: Yuval David (Donald Moscowitz), Tony Rossi (Sid Moscowitz), Deb Armelino / Mary Ellen Ashley (Grandma Moscowitz), Sam Given (Levi Krauss), Elizabeth Klein (Henrietta Hudson), Alex Ammerman / Austin Levine (Johnny Walker) and Megan MacPhee (Mary Ellen MacGuire).
Set by Kevin Klakouski; costumes by Cheryl MacCarron; lighting by Terri Tomola; stage manager, Jennifer-Elizabeth Cooper; assistant director/assistant stage manager, Stephen Millett, producer, David Goldyn. Through April 24 at the Davenport Theatre (upstairs in the Black Box), 354 West 45th Street, 866-811-4111, www.DaddyIssuesThePlay.com. Running time: 120 minutes.