Jeremy O. Harris’ play Daddy, directed by Danya Taymor and first staged off Broadway in 2019, explores the complex issues of race, money, and art patronage in contemporary America. The play’s central feature is Daddy’s heated pool, which colonizes most of the stage and sets the tone for the show’s flamboyantly theatrical production. The protagonist, Franklin, is a young Black American artist, and Andre, an older white billionaire art collector, becomes his lover. The power dynamic between them is unequal, and the question of who is exploiting whom hangs indeterminately between them.
The play’s subtitle, “a melodrama,” hints at its impish and knowing tone, which is heightened by the mischievous choir that pops up to heighten the mood. For all the theatrics, there is enough sophistication in the writing and direction for these elements to work to thrilling effect. The play features sharp art world satire and teen-movie satire, and the combination of the two adds to its unique appeal.
Issues of Race, Money, and Art Patronage
The play raises complicated questions about how blackness is packaged and sold in America’s contemporary art market. Franklin’s gallerist is at pains to market him to wealthy white clients in precisely the right way. Franklin’s artwork, which features miniature black dolls and then life-size figures, is sold to rich white celebrity types, as his mother observes. The play explores how the value of artwork changes when it is brought into a gallery and how the art world views work made by a queer black artist.
Franklin’s relationship with Andre is queasy from the start, with Andre regarding his lover as he might an objet d’art, to be gazed at and admired. The white gaze extends to Franklin’s body, which is always on display and barely clad throughout the play. The play touches on issues of exoticisation and ownership, with Andre saying, “You are mine” to Franklin.
The play’s theatrical elements add to its overall appeal. The pool serves as the central feature of the stage, and the opening scene features Franklin erupting out of the water in Speedos. The mood is impish and knowing, with cool disco beats, sudden spotlights, and a hammy rendition of George Michael’s Father Figure.
The second half of the play is less masterful than the first, and the story seems to dismantle itself without following through deeply. However, the play never ceases to be interesting. The actors are excellent, with Claes Bang as Andre giving off a buzzing sense of predation and Terique Jarrett as Franklin balancing innocence with knowing and trauma with playfulness. Sharlene Whyte’s mother is a baroque creation, both funny and alarming, belting out her moral warnings against her son’s sinful living in song.
Daddy is a bold and brawny theatrical production that explores the complex issues of race, money, and art patronage in contemporary America. The play’s theatrical elements, including the pool as the central feature, add to its unique appeal. The play raises complicated questions about the art world’s views on work made by a queer black artist and how blackness is packaged and sold in America’s contemporary art market. The second half of the play is less masterful than the first, but the play never ceases to be interesting.