Loughrey adapted “The Daddy Machine” from a picture book of the same name by Johnny Valentine and added the inspired touch of the family dog, Stonewall, an actor in a floppy-eared cap with a “tail” sticking out behind, who acts as a sort of emcee. Played with engaging goofiness and a pleasing voice by Jacob Caltrider – in what the program describes, remarkably, as his first paid acting job – Stonewall sets up the spirit of fun with an opening song expressing his delight in his squeaky toys and family of “two kids and me, two moms and a couch. . . . It's all good.”
The children are brainy 13-year-old Sue and impulsive 8-year-old Harry, whose lust for pancakes is thwarted when one mom loses a filling and the other rushes her to the dentist. Dads make pancakes, Harry declares in wistful song – “one dad, one boy and a stack of pancakes, a perfect team.” Meanwhile, Sue is googling “fathers,” and suddenly Dad No. 1 (Andy Collins) steps out of the appliance box bearing a spatula and a foot-high stack of pancakes. Dad No. 2 (Sven Salumaa) soon follows, and the “Daddy Machine” keeps spitting them out, with four actors and the briefly appearing audience recruits. Sue ultimately laments being in “a household full of jocks” in the song “Sixty-Two Dads.”
On Saturday, Lirenza Gillette and Max Oilman-Williams played Sue and Harry (they alternate with Haley Heidemann and Benjamin Shaffer), and they're both troupers. Gillette brought deadpan hilarity to “Sixty-Two Dads,” wearing a white boa and red cowboy hat, her clear voice unfaltering as a playful dad dangled her upside-down. Susan Hammons and Krista Page take dual roles as the moms and Dads No. 3 and No. 4, joining Collins and Salumaa in a doo-wop paean to “The Art of Making Pancakes,” the lyrics tickling young viewers with threats to add special ingredients like liverwurst and anchovies.
details show impeccable care. Costumer Shelly Williams must have had a blast
creating the dads' silly dress-up duds, and scenic designer Christian Lopez
fills the family living room with a kid-appealing palette of orange, green
and purple and accents of polka dots; a “wall” to one side disguises
the back of accompanist Tim McKnight's piano. Along with performances at San
Diego State University and Cal State Long Beach, “The Daddy Machine”
has been booked for R Family Vacations' March cruise. (The company, co-directed
by Rosie O'Donnell's partner, Kelli O'Donnell, focuses on gay and lesbian
travelers and their families.)
Those engagements promise to be the start of a long life beyond San Diego for a show that does just about everything right.
Janice Steinberg is a San Diego arts writer.