The characters in the show, all of whom are gay men, are attending a 41st birthday party at a bar in Los Angeles. Some are deliberate clichés: a pair of smug husbands, a “woke” millennial, a bed-hopping clubgoer, the birthday boy’s bitter ex-lover. Others, such as an older man who witnessed the HIV/AIDS crisis firsthand and the ghost of Oscar Wilde himself, offer moments of welcome melancholy.
In many respects, “Happy Birthday Doug” is a postscript to Droege’s 2016 hit, “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns,” in which he played a Palm Springs wedding guest who offered biting commentary on the future of queer identity in the marriage equality era. The show also winks at 1968’s “The Boys in the Band,” which depicted queer life before the Stonewall uprising and took place at a birthday party.
Like those earlier shows did for the times in which they were produced, “Happy Birthday Doug” ― now playing at New York’s SoHo Playhouse through March 29 ― offers a snapshot of what it’s like to be a gay man, flaws and all, in 2020.
“I’ve been criticized for playing unlikable gay people, and I’ll own that,” Droege told HuffPost. “We need to show LGBTQ people as human beings who aren’t perfect. You get all these different perspectives and points of view, but not all of my characters are redeemable. Why do we have to be likable? Likable’s so boring.”
While “Happy Birthday Doug” mines the varying ages of its characters for laughs, Droege also saw the play as an opportunity to stress the significance of intergenerational friendships in the LGBTQ community.
“It’s really a play about holding on to the people who matter to you in your life,” he said. “I think we have so much to learn from the generation coming up behind us and, of course, the generation ahead of us.”
“Happy Birthday Doug” harkens back to Droege’s roots in sketch and improvisational comedy. Still, the show arrives at a time when the actor-comedian ― who, until recently, was best known for his viral impressions of actress Chloë Sevigny ― has seen his Hollywood career hit a new stride.
He’ll appear in Charlie Day’s big-screen comedy “El Tonto,” starring Kate Beckinsale, John Malkovich and Jason Sudeikis. Later this year, he’ll try a darker brand of comedy on for size with an arc on “Search Party,” which moves from TBS to HBO Max for Season 3.
Behind the cameras, he wrote an episode of Netflix’s “AJ and the Queen,” starring and co-created by RuPaul.
After “Happy Birthday Doug” concludes its New York run next month, Droege is hoping to take the show on the road, possibly internationally. Given that both “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” and “Happy Birthday Doug” both focused on the lives of queer Angelenos, he’s considering mixing things up ― at least in terms of location ― with his next theatrical project.
“I’ve done a wedding in Palm Springs and a birthday party in LA,” he quipped. “Maybe my next play will be a funeral in New York.”
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