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John Benjamin Hickey On What It Means to Play a Gay Dad

John Benjamin Hickey On What It Means to Play a Gay Dad

John Benjamin Hickey
Photography by Chad Griffith

The actor built his made his Broadway debut in Love! Valour! Compassion!, won a Tony for the revival of The Normal Heart, but his newest project, Dada Woof Papa Hot, couldn’t feel more like a departure from that era.


Fans may recognize John Benjamin Hickey for his TV roles in The Big C and the series Manhattan (as well as his part in Pitch Perfect), but audiences can currently catch him in Peter Parnell's Dada Woof Papa Hot, directed by Scott Ellis, currently Lincoln Center Theater in New York City.

In a nutshell, the play is about gay men and parenthood, and it follows Alan and Rob (Hickey and Patrick Breen), and a younger gay married couple, Scott and Jason (Stephen Plunkett and Alex Hurt)--as they become friends after meeting at a parents' group. There's plenty of unresolved sexual tension between the men, as well as generational differences.

The unusual title refers to the first words spoken by Alan and Rob's daughter: "Dada for Rob," Alan explains to Jason. "Woof for dog, Papa for me, hot for the radiator." But Alan jokes that "if you put them together--Dada, woof; Papa, hot--they say what every gay dad wants to hear."

John Benjamin Hickey

Hickey is especially touching in the role, and at one point his character reveals to the younger, more sexually liberated gay dad Jason: "I just don't feel gay anymore. Not in the way I used to feel." The line seems especially poignant coming from Hickey, who made his Broadway debut in Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! and won a Tony for playing Felix Turner in the 2011 revival of The Normal Heart on Broadway.

"I came of age as an actor in New York in the early '90s," Hickey says in a new interview for Backstage. "This was the age of Tony Kushner and Craig Lucas and Paula Vogel and [Jon Robin] Baitz and Terrence McNally. And these were playwrights who were addressing the epidemic and the AIDS crisis so brilliantly. But the other side of those plays [is that] they were sort of meditating on our place as outsiders--on gay men's place as outsiders. And there was sort of an implicit plea inside these plays for straight audiences to see the characters as like them."

As he explains about Dada Woof: "It's a play about what you do when you've only ever defined yourself as somebody who's on the outside [and is now on the inside]."

Dada Woof Papa Hot continues through January 3, 2016 at Lincoln Center Theater, NYC.

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