Review: Jeremy O. Harris’s “Daddy” is a Masterpiece of Melodrama

Christian Lewis
6 min readMar 6, 2019

Late last year New York Theatre Workshop premiered Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play and now in a miraculous feat for a newcomer, he has a second play this season, “Daddy” produced by The New Group and Vineyard Theatre. Harris’s work is gripping, modern, and powerfully political. Here, as in Slave Play, he deals with themes of race and sexuality in a hauntingly trenchant manner.

“Daddy”: A Melodrama explores the relationship between Franklin (Ronald Peet), a young gay black artist, and Andre (Alan Cumming), an older, white, wealthy art collector. Their relationship is not about labels, but for all intents and purposes, Andre is Franklin’s sugar daddy — emphasis on the daddy part. Early in their relationship, they both expresses some kinky desires, and within the first scene Franklin is calling Andre “daddy.” They both seem rather into it. Franklin moves in to Andre’s Bel Air estate and sets up an art studio to prepare for his upcoming show.

Franklin’s friends, Max (Tommy Dorfman) and Bellamy (Kahyun Kim), have conflicted feelings: Max is judgmental but jealous, Bellamy, a sugar baby herself, is supportive. His gallerist, Alessia (Hari Nef) raises her eyebrows but loves how the newfound financial security is helping his work. It is the arrival and opinions of Franklin’s mother (Chalayne Woodard) that really creates a conflict of, well, melodramatic proportion.

Harris put “daddy” in quotation marks subtitles the play “a melodrama,” an initial clue into the self-awareness and experimental genre of the piece. The play is a clear progeny of theatrical greats. There are traces of Ruhl’s surrealism in Melancholy Play, Shakespeare’s vicious family dynamics in Titus Andronicus, Jenkins’s racial critique of nineteenth-century American melodrama in An Octoroon, Kushner’s magical realism in Angels in America, Beckett’s abusrdist fantasies in Endgame, Zimmerman’s symbolism in Metamorphoses, and Karam’s biting naturalism in The Humans, to name a few.

Harris, who states he was influenced by George Michael, Nicki Minaj, and Shirley Caesar, draws from all these distinct styles and skillfully…

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Christian Lewis

Theater Critic. Vassar College alum, current PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center.