Dan Via’s “Daddy,” a West Coast premiere at the Hudson, starts out as a slight, predictable boulevard comedy about a gay May/December romance, but suddenly takes a serious turn into darker and much more interesting territory. Multiple themes are brought up, including the debate over same-sex marriage and the perils of workplace dating. But Rick Sparks’ thoughtful production is strongest in exploring the dynamics of a relationship when sex isn’t an issue but all the other stress points and fault lines of love still apply.
The pair under the microscope, Yale roommates two decades ago, have remained joined at the hip in an Oscar & Felix way. Colin (“CSI” regular Gerald McCullouch) is a laid-back Pittsburgh newspaper columnist who’s into casual sex with twentysomethings, while Stewart (Via) is a buttoned-up, closed-down law prof who hasn’t dated in ages. They banter and bicker, agreeing on little except a sense of life not having worked out quite as planned now that their 50s loom.
A comfortable routine of televised Pirates games and Chinese takeout is disrupted when an eager young intern (a quirkily charming Ian Verdun) insinuates his way out of the newspaper office and into Colin’s heart and apartment. “Your little fetish for post-collegiates is bad enough, but this one’s a fetus!” observes the waspish Stewart, but the source of friction is unclear. Who’s jealous of whom, and what is each man truly out for? What exactly is going on when daddy figure meets twink? And what becomes of friends when lovers demand their space? Such questions keep one guessing for a genuinely involving, uninterrupted 100 minutes.
McCullouch is wholly convincing as an overaged adolescent concerned about slipping into an unhealthy situation but powerless to put on the brakes. For his part, Via has given himself the best, bitchiest lines (sample: “Anyone who says opposites attract has never been to a gay bar”) and the most complex assignment, wrestling with a sudden demotion to third-wheel status.
Together, McCullouch and Via create the unmistakable impression of lifelong best friends at ease with each other even when things are rockiest. That bond is tested as “Daddy” winds down to its melodramatic, but logically plotted and absorbing, conclusion.