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Sugar Daddy

Theatre Review by James Wilson - January 19, 2023

Sam Morrison
Photo by Arin Sang-urai
Stand-up comic and television writer Sam Morrison knows comedy. He has performed on "The Drew Barrymore Show" and has written for Bravo's reality television program "Blind Date." He also is intimately acquainted with grief. Jonathan, his partner of three years and with whom he had quarantined, died. Jonathan was just in his mid-fifties. Sugar Daddy, Morrison's one-person show now playing at SoHo Playhouse, brings elements of each genre to a form he calls "grief comedy." Unfortunately, comedy and tragedy, unlike, say, chocolate and peanut butter, are not always the perfect combination.

Sugar Daddy sits rather uncomfortably between stand-up comedy and performance monologue. There is a lot of very funny material, especially in his no-holds-barred treatment of gay men, dating, and a proclivity for boatloads of sex. Many of the jokes deal with human fluids and should not be repeated here. There is an extended riff, though, on body types, more precisely, his loathing of skinny guys as sex partners. And don't get him started on gym bunnies. He simply cannot abide chiseled, muscular men. "I don't want a boyfriend with a beach body," he says. "They're like Christmas decorations. You show them off for two months, and then hide them in the garage." To amend Cole Porter, love affairs with old bears is what he likes.

As a comic-tragic monologue, Morrison incorporates some neat flourishes. The structural centerpiece is a street robbery. When a mugger wielding a gun demands Morrison's phone, he defiantly and surprisingly says, "No." As the relationship between Morrison and Jonathan, his Sugar Daddy, comes into focus, we understand why he does not want to give up his phone. It has photos of their short but intense love affair stored in it. Also integral to the monologue is Morrison's experiences as a diabetic, and the details about his circumstances transpire (somewhat ingeniously) from an attack by a swarm of seagulls at Provincetown. In a scene that could be straight out of Hitchcock, they descend on the raisins that he needs to bring his blood sugar to a manageable level. Between the mugger and the seagulls, Morrison can't seem to catch a break.

While there is much to admire in the writing, the comedy tends to supersede the grief. As if to avoid painful memories, there are relatively long set-ups for the jokes. For instance, audience members might be confused when they receive the show's flier with a Jehovah's Witnesses brochure, but this will make sense at the end of the evening. It's a shame that the performance's main takeaway comes from the Watch Tower in lieu of Morrison himself.

Personally, I would have liked to know more about Jonathan. We do not learn very much about him except for a few quick bits of information that would fill a Facebook profile. Indeed, we get a glimpse of the two lovers sheltering in place, and there are references to some of their silly endearments, such as a playful animal language they created. But as soon as the focus shifts to Jonathan, Morrison reverts to stand-up mode about himself. Regrettably, instead of a detailed portrait of Jonathan, we get a line drawing. In the end, we can sympathize with Morrison for his loss, but he doesn't bring us in close enough to take on and share his grief.

The performance does not ameliorate the distancing effect between performer and audience. Directed by Ryan Cunningham, Morrison is in almost constant motion as he paces around the stage and occasionally behind the upstage scrim. He's also over-amplified in the small SoHo space, and at times it feels like we are being shouted at rather than talked to.

Finally, Morrison does not appear to feel confident enough with the material to trust audience reactions. He notes, for example, times when we should have found jokes funnier based on previous performances, or he observes that collectively some responses were not what he had anticipated. Now, I am certainly not a stand-up comic, but isn't one of the first thing one learns is that every audience is different?

Morrison begins the show by stating that performing Sugar Daddy is a form of therapy for him. Perhaps with time and more perspective, he will embrace the audience into the narrative more fully. How sweet that would be.

Sugar Daddy
Through February 17, 2023
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York City
Tickets online and current performance schedule: