Right out of the gate Marshall Goldberg’s original comedy Daddy Issues gets the audience laughing. As lights go up on the lead character, Donald Moscowitz, the audience sees his perfectly toned tush doing what appear to be butt exercises while he’s looking for his cat. “Here pussy-puss-puss. That’s a good kitty. Meow,” croons Donald.
Set in early ’80s New York City, Daddy Issues centers around Donald, an actor, and the Moscowitz family. Donald’s father, mother and grandmother are the stereotypical overinvolved, overanxious, Jewish parental units. They want to control Donald’s life and they know how to impose layers upon layers of Jewish guilt. They disapprove of his homosexuality, his decorating choices, and his acting career.
Donald (Yuval David is billed in the role, but understudy Stephen Millett was on, without aid of a script, at the performance I saw) is not searching for his cat after all: he’s preparing to audition for a “Little Friskies Cat Food Commercial.” His father, Sid (Tony Rossi), interrupts Donald’s rehearsal, announcing it would make him truly happy for “someone to carry on the Moscowitz name. I would never ask anything of you again.” “Fine!” Donald thinks, jumping at the chance to finally get his father off of his back.
Donald hatches a plan to create a fictional son with the help of his two besties. Henrietta (Elizabeth Klein), a straight casting director who hangs out with Donald, and Levi Krauss (Sam Given), who moonlights as a female impersonator named “Ophelia Crotch.” Donald has Henrietta cast Johnny Walker (Austin Levine), the 10-year-old from downstairs, to play his son, Ryan. Henrietta and Levi have a dispute over which of them should play Mary Ellen McGuire, Ryan’s mom, supposedly Donald’s old college girlfriend. Of course Levi is the better choice. Then who should show up but the real Mary Ellen McGuire (Megan MacPhee), looking for her son Johnny. The confusion begins bringing about a hilarious bungling of lies, deceit, and manipulation.
Although Goldberg writing often produces laughter, some of his jokes are overused and lose their oomph by the end of the show. For example, Grandma Moscowitz (Deb Armelino) continues to repeat the line “What about me? I can’t even die now. Did I mention my bladder dropped?” By the end of the show it just isn’t funny anymore.
It is Sid and Marion Moscowitz (Kate Katcher) that really ground this show, the mother and father who worry and dote over their only son. They love him, but they don’t understand him. Rossi and Katcher have really found the heart of their characters, two traditional parents struggling to understand their relationship with their gay son.
Sam Given, who plays Levi/Ophelia Crotch, really takes on the personality of an attention-hogging drag queen and does a fantastic impression of Liza Minnelli. Also, the singing and dancing talents of Millett and MacPhee shine in a witty song-and-dance break for Donald and Mary Ellen during the show.
Set designer Kevin Klakouski has done a splendid job creating Donald’s tiny, shabby-chic, Hell’s Kitchen apartment, with one exception. A photo of Henrietta and Donald boldly hangs on the wall by the entrance to the kitchen and is never taken down during the false identity scenes. Sid surely would have noticed the photo beforehand, causing a complete breakdown in the duping of the family. Otherwise, a funky nude painting of a man, and the couch, armchairs, and rugs—brown and beige tones with hints of blue and orange that pop—indicate that Donald has a passion for home design. To top it off, lighting designer Terri Tomola provides an overall dinge to Donald’s apartment with low, dull lighting, suggesting that Donald lives in a bad crime area.
The director, David Goldyn, has helped his actors to make strong individual character choices and really create the sense of family. He uses the small stage space wisely, making sure movements don’t become stagnant and boring, while using every surface and space on the stage. He has given the show a steady pace that makes it flow without too many pregnant pauses or noticeable lulls in action. If you a looking for a night full of laughter, Daddy Issues has got you covered.
Daddy Issues runs through April 24. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Davenport Theatre (354 West 45th St. between Eight and Ninth avenues). Tickets are $35, available at 866-811-4111 or www.DaddyIssuesThePlay.com.