January 29, 2021 at 11:42 am EST | by Patrick Folliard
Gay, disabled, and horny AF
Ryan J. Haddad in ‘Hi, Are You Single?’ (Photo by Lawrence E. Moten III)

‘Hi, Are You Single?’
Feb. 1-28
$15.99
Woollymammoth.net

Out actor Ryan J. Haddad doesn’t hold back. Whether in life or through his autographical one-man play “Hi, Are you Single?” (soon streaming at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company), he’s refreshingly direct.

“The show begins with my shorts around my ankles and I’m rubbing the crotch of my boxer briefs, the audience sees my walker,” Haddad explains matter-of-factly. “I’m telling you from the start that these are the terms here. If you can’t get on board with me being disabled and horny AF then you’ll have a hard time with this play.”

The character he wrote and performs – also named Ryan – is a version of himself. And like Haddad, a third generation Lebanese American who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and now lives in New York City, he is gay and has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement, balance, and posture.

Never hesitant to tell his story, Haddad just needed some help on how to go about it. That nudge came from renowned gay performance artist and instructor Tim Miller during a weeklong workshop at Ohio Wesleyan University, where Haddad was majoring in English and theater. Haddad wrote and performed a monologue about the challenges surrounding disability and theater. Miller reacted to Haddad’s promising effort, saying Haddad shouldn’t wait for professors or directors in the professional world to decide if he’s castable, that he’s a captivating performer who can cast and play himself, and that his story without a veil of fiction is very interesting.

An invite to a Miller-run queer workshop in New York City soon followed. At 21, Haddad was alone in Gotham for the first time. By day he workshopped a piece about being disabled and queer, and after dark, he explored the gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen.

“It was my first time ever in a gay bar and I wasn’t having that much fun. There I was trying to be sexy, get some pleasure from men, and instead, I was being gawked at or completely ignored,” recalls Haddad, now 29. “They had never seen someone with a walker in a gay bar, and never considered that a disabled person might be gay. Nobody came out and said this, but I’m not emotionally unintelligent. I was being othered.”

The workshop ended with Miller suggesting Haddad write a show from which to launch professionally. Inspired by his experience in the bars, Haddad returned to college and began writing: “I knew the show would be an investigation of why negative energy is volleyed at me when I walk into gay spaces, including online spaces like Grindr. And it would need to include my own biases that needed to be unpacked and extinguished, or at least understood.”

The result would be a spicy, hypersexualized comedy about the pursuit of love, romance, and sex that plunges into dark, complex and unexpected territory, a work that would later serve Haddad well in New York, attracting casting agents and a manager, and lead to sustainable work and eventually to an eye-catching supporting role in “The Politician,” a popular Netflix series.

Woolly Mammoth is giving “Hi, Are You Single?” its first full production. While over the past six years it has been presented at many theaters around the country, including The Public in New York, it’s usually been for one or two nights, always making do with whatever props or scenery was on hand.

“At Woolly, the play finally has its own set, costumes, lighting, and a month-long run. It’s great and about time, but I’ve learned theater moves at its own pace,” he says. “Being filmed onstage without an audience during a pandemic wasn’t how I wanted to first work at Woolly but I’m very happy and grateful for the experience.”

Haddad calculates he can continue performing “Hi, Are You Single?” until he’s in his mid-30s. He’s currently working on a companion piece to perform in repertory with the show.

“It’s a different kind of story about the next chapter in Ryan’s quest for intimacy and romance. I can’t play inexperienced forever. But if audiences know coming back the following day to see me do the next chapter, then it works. I want to share that disabled people are here, and we can be part of non-disabled people’s romantic stories too.”

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