How it’s New York: Johnny O’Callaghan tells a story from the POV of an out-of-work actor. While it takes place in Los Angeles before moving to Uganda, a
lot of t he details are very familiar to the New York scene too.
How it’s Irish: O’Callaghan is Irish, and he also hilariously describes his Irish parents and childhood.
This review originally appeared in Irish Examiner USA, Tuesday, May 7.
There’s nothing like looking outside of yourself to find yourself.
That’s part of the message of Johnny O’Callaghan’s touching one-man show, “Who’s Your Daddy?,” extended at Irish Rep through May 26. O’Callaghan adopted a Ugandan orphan and, in the process, grew up.
The play premiered at the Little Victory Theatre in California, and since then has been to the Edinburgh Fringe, among others. It is O’Callaghan’s playwriting debut.
A good looking, rather buff, blonde guy, O’Callaghan was an aimless actor getting nowhere fast in Los Angeles in 2006, teaching road safety to schoolchildren and appearing on cable television shows, when his life changed.
He didn’t intend it to change; he caught his boyfriend cheating and lost his home. Shortly afterwards, he lost his job. And shortly after that, he bumped into an actress friend going to Uganda to make a documentary, who invited him along to help film. With nothing to lose, he went.
O’Callaghan has some funny observations about his life in LA and his childhood in Ireland – my favorite was his thinking he was giving “money for Jews” on the collection plate, not realizing it was “dues” until he made it to America.
His stories about aimless sex, and his encounter with an elderly aggressive lady, are less agreeable, though. He’s funny, but not particularly likable. Which is all right, because it’s kind of the point.
Before he went to Uganda and met his son – the bond between him and the 3-year-old boy is mystical and instantaneous – Johnny was a man-child, self-absorbed and often self-pitying.
The one-man format serves him less well once he gets to Uganda, particularly in the adoption process.
The boy he meets in the orphanage in this strange, violent world, has a birthmark in his eye that looks like the map of Ireland. Johnny heard the thought, “he’s my son.”
The rest of the play details Johnny’s decision to adopt the child and the hurdles he had to clear to do it. It wasn’t easy: he was a single, gay, sometimes working actor.
He was dealing with a guide who was corrupt, and obstacles from both the Ugandan and the American governments.
One of the most frightening things was that the US would not admit a child who was HIV positive.
Miraculously, little Odin (as Johnny names him) developed antibodies after birth and tests HIV negative.
Director Tom Ormeny keeps the actor in motion in a simple set in Irish Rep’s downstairs, designed by Charlie Corcoran.
Overall, it’s a touching story. Especially nice is a description of how his Irish grandmother, who used to describe furniture as “nigger brown,” instantly fell in love with the child when he ran and gave her a hug.
“Who’s Your Daddy?” is a sweet play, with a lot of heart.
“Who’s Your Daddy?” is presented by Irish Repertory Theatre in association with Georganne Aldrich Heller and Jami Heidegger, at Irish Rep’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theater, 123 W. 22nd St. Tickets are $45, and are available by calling (212) 727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.