Primal scenes

Daddy's Home

By Renée Flemings
Directed by Renée Flemings and Christopher Rushton
2001: A Spotlight On Festival Odyssey
Actors Studio Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Daddy's Home starts with the sudden death of the father (Daddy, played by Lee Dobson) of a dysfunctional black family, presumably of a heart attack or stroke. Mama (Yolanda Karr), putting on airs like the principal resident of Tara, immediately takes to her bed and commands her gathered offspring - Vanessa (Karen Kitz), Brock (Omar Jermaine), and Michael (Spencer Scott Barros) - not to move Daddy's body from his armchair, center stage.

But move Daddy does - or his spirit does, creeping up on his offspring and letting them know of his presence by moving objects or actually touching them. While it isn't entirely clear why Mama wants Daddy around, it becomes clear why Daddy wants to stay: there is unfinished business in the family circle, unfinished business that it is the play's purpose to unravel.

In the course of which, the characters unravel. Vanessa exposes her fear of intimacy, which leads to her overachieving in business and her controlling personality. Michael (Mandy, in "the life") dresses up in drag, his preferred mode of attire (though why he brought a dress from Washington to his father's wake is left as an exercise for the viewer). And Brock, who likes to hang out in clubs and dally with lapdancers, exposes his impotence and, finally, its root cause, hidden deep in the roots of the family's troubles.

This flaying of the family psyche is heavy going, both psychologically and dramaturgically. The play is saved by Flemings's acute ear for dialog and by the ending, in which Daddy collects all his children in a healing embrace.

Dobson, as Daddy, outshone his colleagues in the acting department, possibly because he had a lot fewer lines. Instead of waiting for his next monolog to vent his soul, he was forced to listen and react. They say that the essence of good acting is listening, and Dobson definitely bore out the rule. And they say good middle-aged men are hard to find Off-Off-Broadway? Here's a gem!

The set (Josh Iacovelli), a few set pieces with a bed on a riser upstage, for Mama, was serviceable. The lighting (Melanie Loveday) inexcusably left part of Mama's bed in the dark. The costumes (Victoria Ward) were expressive, as in Mandy's sleek outfit and Mama's cumbersome one. (When she got out of it she exclaimed, "Free at last!")

The directing left much to be desired, both in its emphasis on individual actors at the expense of the ensemble and its blocking (literally!) of individuals to the least advantage.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton