Intermission #1 of “Daddy” by Jeremy O. Harris: The set designed by Matt Saunders of a Los Angeles art-filled contemporary home includes an actual swimming pool on stage, at times the swimming and other activities staged in the pool splashed the front rows of audience with water, delightfully breaking the line between witnesses and participants. Following a sharp dialogue about the art of Kara Walker and a gallerist’s studio visit to the young poppet-making artist played by Ronald Peet, who speaks with a breathless quality mixed with fierce intellect and a resurfacing traumatic past, there was Alan Cumming in the role of his older lover, Andre, singing George Michael’s “Father Figure” in the pool, attended by a trio of watchful gospel singers of a chorus that witness the young artist throughout the play… “That’s all I wanted / Something special, something sacred / In your eyes / For just one moment / To be bold and naked / At your side…”

Intermission #2: My partner, Joseph, rightly names that all the characters get a better opportunity to be more realized in the second act, and though I was less enthusiastic about the melodrama the play’s subtitled status definitely delivered, I loved loved a sparing dialogue about Carl Andre being less important than Ana Mendieta just because he survived the “circumstances” of her tragic death. I appreciated the intimacy of the shared water of the pool, almost an alchemical character itself, but during the second act the action stayed mostly on the ground. There was some beautiful staging of the silent studio activities, as the artist created more evolved and larger fiber pieces, eventually acting out pantomime stories with bigger than life-sized figures that begin in pieces, helped in the act of mending/building by the chorus women as a kind of divine studio assistants. “…Sometimes I think you’ll never / Understand me / But something tells me together / We’d be happy, oh oh…”

After the play: I am caught by surprise at the ways the issues of a never-known biological father and the tensions that linger in a conflicted relationship with the character of the mother as experienced and expressed by the young artist making fiber art seemed to steamroll me; I was surprised that I was surprised. Heading into the production, I’d been focused on the questions this playwright explores so powerfully about Black artists and bodies being “consumed” by white audiences, and aware, sitting amongst the mostly white audience of the theater, that I was also a gay white viewer contributing to the playwright’s own sky-rocketing success strikingly similar to the lead character’s fast paced artistic recognition, and gratefully challenged with his very intimate investigations of attraction, interracial desire like Harris did in the more satirical “Slave Play” we saw earlier this winter. I’d not really been prepared to feel somewhat unearthed by the family story themes crashing against my own underworld of family histories. Trying not to cry, I choked out my own missing biological father experience, “In the reality of his death, there would be no phone call coming from a father I never knew.” Leaving the experience of the play,  I was also painfully aware that the “daddy issues” for both the artist character and me, are very much centered and wrapped tightly around the figure of a very real and living mother, and the inheritance of the choices she made in the circumstances of bringing a child to into the world.


Studio view, work-in-progress on sculptural garment, “Lift the Curse” (above) the back inner lining with hand-stenciled text and (on dress form) back section with textile collage work 18″ x 42″ x 10″ in the #urbanfey: protective wear for urban faeries series by Michael Sylvan Robinson

“An initiation journey often begins with the perception that something is wrong. We undertake a process of transformation because we want more than what is given. We sense that some loss requires restitution; some balance must be restored… We each inherit many, many ills we did not create. The path to personal power requires that we know what we are called to heal and what we are not called to fix. In our personal lives, we did not create the families we were born into. We did not build the castle, nor did we contribute to its design. We may or may not be able to heal its ills… Collectively, too, we live in a castle not of our own design, full of secrets and inherited ills. None of us alive today created our heritage of sexism, racism, poverty, social injustice, war, or environmental degradation. Sometimes these conditions may oppress us personally; at other times we may benefit from them directly or indirectly… the willing undertaking of responsibility, can lead to healing… When we answer the call with courage and responsibility, we begin the a process that will transform us as deeply as it changes the world around us.” ~ The Twelve Wild Swans, Starhawk and Hilary Valentine

Over a meal in the theater district, Joseph talked wisely of the cycles in which we re-engage the healing of these old patterns rooted in our family histories. Part of me sat quietly, appreciative of his efforts, but another inner voice critically reviewed how invisible all my years of work through therapy, recovery and spiritual practice, the coaching and the art-making seemed, and wondering what could possibly be needed “more” than all those previous approaches and processes? I named out loud, “that obviously, the delayed news of my biological father’s death triggered old fault lines.” He affirmed there’d been a lessening of the intensity from my initial reaction following the discovery, but also ways in which these lingering wounds intrude upon my presence and participation. This mirror reflection made me mad, not at my partner, but at all of it, the family legacy like a demon I’ve tried so hard to exorcise, reminded again of the religious imagery utilized in the play, and though not the specific flavor of my own problematic religious upbringing, it was close enough to sting. “I will be your father figure / Put your tiny hand in mine (I’d love to) / I will be your preacher teacher / (Be your daddy)  / Anything you had in mind / … I will be the one who loves you / Till the end of time.”

Over his meal, and with great care, my partner asked, “Perhaps there’s some kind of ancestor work you can do to release him?” Yes. Yes, there is.