Baghdaddy, known in previous iterations as Who’s Your Baghdaddy? or How I Started the Iraq War has tightened up its title for the latest run—an appropriate improvement for this quick-moving, quick-witted comedy.
The setting moves from the support group’s church basement to the Frankfurt Airport, where an Iraqi defector claims to have proof that Saddam Hussein has created mobile units to disperse biological weapons. In fact, the defector, code-named Curveball, informs a German interrogator that he played a pivotal role in building them. When CIA officers are brought into the fold, their desire for the truth becomes humorously entangled with their quest for personal recognition as they try to prove the reliability and credibility of the Iraqi defectors’ story.
Each of the colorful cast of characters is out to prove something. And while none of them is solely responsible for the Iraq War, any one of them could have put a stop to the avalanche-like effect of their combined actions and inactions.
(Former) chief weapons inspector for the United Nations Martin Bouchard (Bob D’Haene) wants to prove his previously published compendium on Hussein’s chemical weapons arsenal is true. Eager-to-impress German Junior Detective Richart Becker (Brennan Caldwell) is looking to be taken seriously by cracking Curveball (Joe Joseph).
CIA operative and higher-up Tyler Nelson (Jason Collins) has an Inspector Javert–like belief in rules, policy and the system. He’s not as quick to believe Curveball as CIA analysts Jerry Samuel (Ethan Slater) and Berry Stanton (Larisa Oleynik) seem to be. Perhaps it’s because Berry is more than ready to come up from her basement office and boring assignments, and Jerry is willing to do anything for Berry’s affections. The cast is rounded out by the comedic duo of Claire Newmann and Brandon Espinoza, who play various roles.
Individually and as a comprehensive cast, the eight actors are rock-solid. No one cast member stands out as more skilled than the others; instead, they work off one another’s humor and energy to create a compelling ensemble.
Though Pailet’s melodies may not be stuck in your head when you walk out of the theater, they are impressively diverse in style to fit the various scenes during which they occur. The laugh-out-loud lyrics by Penedo certainly will rattle around your brain long after the final bow. The standout, with lyrics like “Don’t mess with my Shiite,” and “I’ll flood your Euphrates,” is the title song, “Baghdaddy.”
The Off-Broadway budget is apparent in the nonexistent set and scarce props. But what’s lacking in stage décor is hardly missed, thanks to the expert staging of Pailet, who directs, and quirky choreography by Misha Shields that keeps the audience visually captivated for the full two-hour running time.
The fourth wall is broken multiple times throughout Baghdaddy, but not as profoundly as when Jerry outright asks Marty and the audience, “Do you feel like this has gotten less funny?"
Baghdaddy, with a book by Penedo and Pailet, is compelling, clever and based on a true story. Though funny from start to finish, the plot takes on more serious tone as the audience is given a not-so-subtle reminder that, although they’re at a play, thousands of others fought a war for over a decade. Speeches from George W. Bush and Colin Powell play in the small theater as a chilling reminder of how this story ends.
Baghdaddy plays through June 25 at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 W. 46th St.) Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online at Telecharge or at the box office (212) 239-6200 and cost $39.50–$69.50.