Who’s Your Daddy?
The room lightens from shades of blue to show a hooded form to the left of the stage as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" plays in the background. With sudden motion, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed O’Callaghan pops out of his hood and screams, "I’m being haunted! By my mother and father -- and they’re not even dead!"
After finding his boyfriend with twin lovers, having his beloved dog run away and losing his driving safety job when his rocker-bound boss propositions him, he finds himself without companion or purpose in L.A. Departing on a suicide mission to Uganda in search of a dramatic way to die, he is shepherded by Andrew, a local who runs an orphanage, and Stella, a promiscuous actress who needs a cameraman for her documentary.
Arriving at the orphanage, he is struck by the dire circumstances of the children, who hardly have any food to eat, mold growing in their hair, and multi-colored mucus dripping from their noses onto ashy, scabbed skin. Of the children, Benson takes an instant affection to him, and O’Callaghan, seeing a map of Ireland birthmark in the white of his eye, knows this is his son-to-be.
Written and performed by Johnny O’Callaghan, "Who’s Your Daddy?" is the true tale of the actor’s search for purpose and his adoption of a boy from Uganda. Using his fighting Irish attitude, he battles the obstacles of the U.S. adoption and citizenship process and Ugandan guardianship legalities.
The solo performance tackles dark issues through a humorous lens in a casual, friendly tone, marking the various stages of the story with the steps a woman experiences during pregnancy. For example, he relates his first food poisoning after meeting Benson, who he later named Odin after the Norse God of Wisdom, to morning sickness.
The starting point of the story mirrors that of an orphan, with O’Callaghan abandoned by his lover and dog, living in California, miles away from his Irish family in which he does not quite fit. His straight-laced brothers and racist, chain-smoking parents discourage his plans for adoption, saying he is unfit even to take care of a goldfish.
The story also focuses on identity. In Africa, his tall white figure stands out: "Why is everyone staring at ME -- I must look like a bottle of milk." Despite his hardly being able to take care of himself, he is seen in Africa as a savior, a woman even offering him her child, hoping he can provide a better life.
Through the adoption process, he must constantly lie about himself. To the American social worker he must pretend his family is elated about the baby and that he is celibate. In Uganda, he must hide that he is gay in order to qualify to adopt and faces obstacles as the first single male to attempt adoption in that country.
The set, designed by Charlie Corcoran, and lighting, done by Michael O’Connor, successfully complements the various locations and atmospheres in which O’Callaghan finds himself. Relatively primitive, O’Callaghan uses his own motion to add an element, such as alluding to a club by rocking from a pole in the ceiling while dance music blares, or bobbing up and down on a rock to signal a bumpy car ride.
Instead of a depressing story about saving an orphan, the play focuses on how the experience really saved O’Callaghan. It makes us contemplate how fortunate we are and the tiny joys that make life worth living. Marking The Irish Repertory Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Season, it is dedicated to Odin.
"Who’s Your Daddy" runs through May 12 at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit www.irishrep.org.