There is an unmistakable hunger to their first encounter. Andre (Alan Cumming) is old and rich and white, Franklin (Ronald Peet) young and Black. Dubbing him “Naomi,” after the supermodel, Andre buries his face in Franklin’s legs, purring, “Smooth. Like the sweetest chocolate.” But Franklin is distracted by Andre’s wealth, by his infinity pool and his rooms overstuffed with “gauche” pairings of name-brand artists. Franklin, who is himself preparing for his first gallery show, explains to Andre, “Art loses its worth the minute it can be bought.”
For the psychosexual relationship that follows, the implication is clear: Andre is trying to purchase Franklin’s love, to add him to his collection. Franklin, meanwhile, is working on a series of “weird dolls of Black boys” who are “possibly me” and finds in Andre a replacement of his absent father. When his Bible-thumping mother (Charlayne Woodard) arrives, the parents wage war over their child, who regresses into the infantile as he is tugged back and forth between these two commanding personalities. Cumming is absolutely brilliant, in total control of his movements, playing some combination of Mephistopheles and Count Dracula; but he meets his match in Woodard, whose Zora is diminutive but terrifying.
Those who were fortunate enough to see Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, then, will find his follow-up, Daddy, both familiar and invigorating. There is the same formal innovation, the same commitment to pop music, and the same fearless investigation of the politics of interracial sex. A gospel choir (Carrie Compere, Denise Manning, and Onyie Nwachukwu) serves as a kind of Greek chorus, while the first act includes a deeply disturbing rendition of George Michael’s “Father Figure,” akin to David Lynch’s use of Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet. For Harris, intimacy and menace are never far apart, and in only a few short months, it has become patently clear that he is one of the most exciting and challenging new playwrights on the New York stage.