August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Ryan J. Haddad brings his Grindr life to ‘Hi, Are You Single?’

Somewhere close to the halfway point in Ryan J. Haddad’s autobiographical one-man show, “Hi, Are You Single?” — a streaming coproduction by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company of Washington, D.C., and IAMA Theatre Company in L.A. — I found myself thinking, “There’s no way this guy doesn’t have a boyfriend.”

In another context, my musings on this topic would probably seem impertinent, but the premise of Haddad’s hourlong performance, filmed on Woolly Mammoth’s stage in November before a small audience of masked staff members, is that ever since he came out at 16, he has been desperate for a boyfriend, any boyfriend at all. So desperate that once he sat outside the restroom at a gay club and asked to the men who passed, “Hi, are you single?”

Haddad isn’t coy about his sex drive; it’s most likely stronger, he claims, than anybody else’s in the room. He also has cerebral palsy, which limits his mobility and his access to the places where gay men are supposed to find acceptance. In fact, Haddad says, he didn’t really experience discrimination or bigotry until he started his boyfriend search. He had a happy childhood, with a supportive and loving family, many friends and a bright future in the performing arts. (In addition to his stage work, he has acted on TV in “The Politician,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and other shows.) But then the first gay bar Haddad tried to visit, on a trip to New York, was at the top of a staircase.

More discouraging than the physical barriers were the attitudes of clubs’ patrons, who repeatedly failed to see past Haddad’s disability. Some mocked him; others wept over him; many welcomed him, only to reveal casually cruel assumptions. “With all your problems you’d be lucky to take whatever you can get,” one stone-cold charmer pointed out.

Haddad relates these anecdotes one after another, dots that coalesce into a grim picture of society’s dehumanization of people with disabilities. Online dating hasn’t gone much better. Haddad includes his walker in his Grindr profile pics, but would-be hookups still balk when he draws it to their attention: “I cant be kool w/dat,” one dude texts back, his poor spelling a hint, Haddad observes, that he probably wasn’t boyfriend material anyway.

These stories made my heart hurt — but I still can’t believe that Haddad isn’t fending off boyfriends with a stick. He’s so cute, so funny, sweet, brave and vulnerable that anybody watching his performance — even somebody who’d be happier with fewer vivid descriptions of sex acts and maybe not so much simulated masturbation — would be hard-pressed not to fall in love with him. (He’s done “Hi, Are You Single?” live at various venues over the years; this filmed version is directed by Laura Savia and Jess McLeod.) At one point, as he slow-danced with an audience member he invited onstage (scenic and costume designer Lawrence E. Moten III), I was ready to throw my own hat in the ring as his boyfriend.

I know I’m not Haddad’s type — and not only because I’m too old for him. But my age, among many factors, would definitely be a problem for us. Haddad has turned down men younger than me. He’s rebuffed suitors for other reasons too, some of them pretty shallow. It seems to come as a revelation to him, as well as to the audience, that he has hang-ups and prejudices of his own. His bracing self-criticism lends authority to his ultimate request: that all of us try to have a little more compassion.

‘Hi, Are You Single?’

Who: Streaming copresentation from Woolly Mammoth and IAMA theaters

When: Until 8:59 p.m. Feb. 28

Cost: $20.

Info: woollymammoth.net, (202) 393-3939

Running time: 1 hour