Theatre Review: Happy Birthday Doug (Soho Playhouse, New York) ★★★★

Being friends with comedian, writer, director and actor Drew Droege must make party planning so simple. Instead of inviting that douchey bro gay; that grating gay couple with kids; the failed actor who’s fallen off the wagon (who invites himself anyway); your successful ex-boyfriend who wants you to know he’s just come from the writers room of a top secret Netflix show he’s working on; the older gay infatuated with the Hollywood stars of yesteryear; and all your other gay friends and frenemies, you only have to invite Droege and he can portray all of these men and more — as he does in Happy Birthday Doug — in a delicious, nuanced, often hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking way.

Drew Droege in Happy Birthday Doug at New York’s SoHo PLayhouse.
Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

Happy Birthday Doug, enjoying an extended run at New York’s SoHo Playhouse until March 29th, is the fifth one man show written and performed by Droege, who’s probably best known for his fabulously random Chloë Sevigny YouTube videos. The set up is simple, Doug is celebrating his 41st birthday, following the recent publication of his novel, in a Los Angeles wine bar and the audiences gets to meet the various guests populating the room, as well as an overly familiar member of the bar staff and even a certain literary figure making an appearance from beyond the grave. Like all good observational comedy, many aspects of the characters portrayed are highly recognisable, without them feeling like caricatures. Even if you’ve never set foot in Los Angeles you are likely to have encountered gay men like all of these characters at some point, though you might miss some of the LA neighbourhood jokes made from time to time.

Although most of the one hour runtime is filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud moments, it’s far from being on one note, in fact there are some surprisingly poignant points during some of the monologues, and the humour is sharp, but never mean-spirited.

Drew Droege in Happy Birthday Doug at New York’s SoHo PLayhouse.
Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

Droege impressively manages to immediately switch, with apparent effortlessness, from one character to next with subtle vocal and physical changes, and a different drink in hand. Each character is distinct, with their own preoccupations and relationship with Doug, well, apart from the “Valley trolls”, the couple who have kids, but that’s the point, no one can tell those two apart! Tom DeTrinis’ pacy, unfussy direction helps keep the well defined characters separate in our minds, with each inhabiting their own precise spot on the stage.

Although you might make your excuses and quickly move away from most of these characters if you got stuck chatting to them at a birthday gathering in real life, at a safe distance and in Droege’s hands they are captivating. Droege delivers a delightful hour of Off-Broadway theatre with a vibrant, genuine tour de force performance.

Drew Droege’s Happy Birthday Doug runs at New York’s Soho Playhouse until March 28th 2020. For more details and to book tickets head to the show’s official website here.

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