Who’s Your Daddy, a father’s story of interracial adoption, is part of Toronto’s East End Performance Crawl
With the East End Performance Crawl, it’s clear that Crow’s Theatre hopes to begin luring people to the theatre on the east side on the Don Valley. Their tactic is to install solo artists in odd locations around the neighborhood where their theatre is being built, and encourage us to visit them all. My first foray into this excellent ideal was John O’Callaghan’s Who’s Your Daddy, and it was…not excellent.
I wanted to like it. As a father myself, I am always so pleased when other fathers make work about the experience. Who’s Your Daddy is a story of a man’s trip to Uganda, the unexpected insistent prompting he feels to adopt a child he meets there, and the extensive hoop-jumping and shenanigans he must endure before he is eventually successful in his endeavor. But there were quite a few things about the show that didn’t work for me, and I ended up feeling surprised and somewhat bewildered at how much acclaim the program reports it to have received.
I had two primary complaints – one artistic, and one political. The artistic complaint is that on the night we saw the show, O’Callaghan seemed to have only one setting, and it was very, very high. He very literally sweat and spit and frothed at the mouth and screamed the entire show. I understand that between the betrayal of his ex lover and the travel indignities and then the bureaucratic nightmares there’s no end of outrage. But in theatre, I think there’s value in demonstrating a range of emotions, tempos, and volumes or a piece just becomes exhausting (which I was, at the end of 90 minutes). I would have preferred if the show gave a more nuanced landscape (or, really, a nuanced landscape at all).
Politically, there was a tone-deafness about race that I did not enjoy. The show makes liberal use of racial epithets, and while I understand the value of truth telling I was not prepared to hear the N-word shouted half-a-dozen times in the first two minutes of my theatrical experience, however tiny a fraction it may be of the times the performer heard it in his life. His dismissal of concerns about cross-cultural adoption in a single sentence “their culture is starvation and rats on the floor,” also really troubled me. Of course, Uganda has a rich history of music, art, and dance as well as modern artists, traditional foods and family structures, and so on. Especially with such a rich connection to draw between the British treatment of Ireland and British treatment of Uganda – the history of brutal taxation, conscription, use of the country as a supply colony – I was surprised that O’Callaghan didn’t bother with it and found myself angry at how dismissive he was.
It’s very clear that he loves his son Odin and went to great lengths to adopt him, which is wonderful. The end of the performance has some very nice moments as he returns to discussing his family and his home. But after 80 minutes worth of cringing for various reasons, I just couldn’t be wooed by it. Evidently this is being made into a movie; perhaps that form will suit the story better.
- Who’s Your Daddy plays at Loft Apartment, 10 Hasting Street until 1 June
- Times vary, check website for specifics.
- Tickets are $15, or a five-show pass is available for $50
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416 907-0468
Photo of John O’Callaghan provided by the company