Sam Morrison is grieving his ‘Sugar Daddy,’ movingly and hilariously
The Daily Beast
January 28, 2023
Sam Morrison crafts a brilliantly funny show around grief—with skinny guys and seagulls as nemeses—in “Sugar Daddy,” while “The Appointment” tackles abortion via singing foetuses.
Sam Morrison recently got mugged. His attacker said, “I have a gun, give me the phone.” Morrison said no, and—as he tells the audience at SoHo Playhouse (to Feb 17) at his brilliant one-man show Sugar Daddy—“I know, isn’t that funny? I know we just met, but I think we can all agree that was off-brand. I’m an anxious, asthmatic, gay, diabetic Jew. We’re not known to excel in moments of crisis. If you ask me for my phone charger right now, I’d be like, of course, just take the whole phone. If you’re looking for the nudes, they’re under ‘Israel Trip 2012.’”
Morrison was determined not to hand over his phone—it had pictures of his dead partner on it. The “no” was coming from somewhere deep inside.
As theater prepares to rumble into its Tony season full-gear, Morrison’s is the best new show in New York right now: a whip-crack 65 minutes, beautifully told, sharp, moving, and truly laugh-out-loud, doubled-up, head-thrown-back funny. The title is a multiple play on words—referring to managing diabetes, his attraction to older men, and the ongoing grief he feels over the death of his most-loved “daddy,” his partner Jonathan (who was far from rich, he emphasizes).
Morrison is a lithe, handsome guy, who revels in his love and attraction to bigger, older men. He imagines the bones clanking together of skinny men when they have sex. “People think it’s weird I’m into thighs and bellies. I think it’s weird you’re into tibulas and fibulas… We skinnies as a people, we’re always shivering or getting kidnapped! I’m not into you if your arch nemesis is the wind.” Instead, he yearns for a man whose belly is comfortable for laying one’s head onto while watching Bridgerton.
The show edges, hilariously, movingly, and deeply, around love, desire, attraction, Jonathan’s illness and death, and the grief that has come in its wake. Morrison recalls meeting Jonathan at the gayest witching hour in the world: after closing time at Spiritus Pizza in Provincetown. Jonathan was as happy and content as the night they met, a “twinkle in his eye.” They move in quickly together during “a global pandemic. COVID, not Spanish flu, he’s not that old.”
Morrison has comedic charm in spades, and then in quieter moments, his voice quieter and cracking, your heart goes out to him. And then… the laughs and joke-packed storytelling begin again. Being in a gay grief support group has been helpful in so many ways, he says, not least because Morrison—daddy-lover supreme, around a lot of grieving older men—is in daddy heaven. He’s having so much sex. If he’s a “gay club seven,” he’s a “widow support group 12,” he says.
He recalls one day crying hard on a beach, and with low blood sugar a risk eats some “gay little raisins.” This leads to a full-on confrontation with a pilfering seagull. Speaking of animals, Sam and Jonathan shared an animal language during quarantine. The problem, later discovered, was that Sam was cawing “I love you,” while Jonathan was calling back “No.”
Morrison winds himself into a climactic, very funny paroxysm, bringing all his themes and feelings together—before returning us back to the glucose patch he wears on his arm. We find out why it makes him think of Jonathan specifically; and in one of the most powerful parts of the show, Morrison explains why he has made this show, and what Jonathan means inside it and outside of it; and how crafting humor and laughs from something so awful has ultimately been of huge psychological benefit. Get ready to practice your animal cawing.
The Appointment (WP Theater, to Feb 4) is a mostly comedic musical about abortion, originally conceived five years ago by the Philadelphia-based Lightning Rod Special theater company. Back then, the program states, the show was “born of rage. Rage at misogyny. Rage at paternalism. Rage at politicians and judges mired in hypocrisy. Rage at the silencing of women and oppressed people. Rage at blatant, systemic marginalization. And then, curiosity. How are we all, even those of us who work against those systems of marginalization, complicit in them?”
Now, five years later, Roe v Wade is overturned, and the show—which has partnered with the National Network of Abortion Funds—has an even more prescient sense of emergency.
The Appointment is really two shows. One is an occasionally funny, occasionally baffling musical revue imagining the thoughts of male and female foetuses as they prepare for birth, or to be aborted. We see what the foetuses overhear in the human world around them, as well as the food they crave and the food they fear. They look slyly and challengingly out to us too. Audience participation lovers and haters, yes that features too—an especially is-this-happening? moment comes when a “daddy” is located in the audience to be interrogated by two female foetuses about the kind of man he is, and the kind of father he may be.
At another moment, the foetuses—are they still foetuses, it’s unclear—gather for a Thanksgiving feast, at which the turkey doesn’t seem to be as dead as it should be. Cue chaos.
The other section of the show is a no-laughs journey through an abortion appointment, focused on one female patient (Alice Yorke, also the show’s lead artist) in a waiting room of other women—which, with stark restraint, conveys what happens and what is said as she prepares and then undergoes the procedure, with an all-male surgical staff around her. There is one bit of dark humor in this set-up—a song performed by the men. But otherwise the focus, if not the words, is trained on Yorke. This is a quietly powerful piece of theater, and it would have been good to hear more from her and the other women in the waiting room with her.