Dada Woof Papa Hot dramatizes a social transition: gay men moving from an unmarried, childless existence to married lives filled with the challenges of parenthood. According to the set designer, John Lee Beatty, coming up with the look of the production involved other kinds of transitions. “The audience in the theater or the reader of the script sees 8 scenes, but for the designers it’s a 15-scene play, because we also have to come up with getting from one point to the next.”

“Very early on in the discussions about the design with the director, Scott Ellis,” Beatty said, “we decided that this didn’t feel like a play that would have blackouts – stagehands running on and off to move things.”

According to Beatty, whose many designs in the Mitzi E. Newhouse include Shows for Days, Other Desert Cities, and The Substance of Fire, it was important that the design of Dada Woof Papa Hot “help us to know what kind of people these characters are.” He added: “We decided that the young child of the two main characters” – a middle-aged gay couple called Alan and Rob – “invaded almost every scene of the play, even though we never see that child.”

This decision affected not just the design of the child’s nursery but also the Fire Island beach house occupied by the main couple’s friends. “There is a bit of a collision there,” Beatty said, “between the beach house designed for adults and a place that now must accommodate the needs of young children.” Mentioning the 1991 Terrence McNally play, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, also set on Fire Island and which he designed, Beatty said that Dada Woof Papa Hot “was a little bit of a flashback for me. Except that now we have new gay daddies in an old gay environment.”

Beatty, who drew inspiration for the set from, among other things, looking through real-estate ads, said that “we wanted everything to be suggested and not insisted upon. We had a sense from the get-go that the design needed to be slightly realistic but not naturalistic.”

Beatty also designed the previous play in the Newhouse, this past summer, which was Douglas Carter Beane’s Shows for Days, as well as Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation in the Newhouse last year. (The latter, with a Beatty design, will be done at Arena Stage, in Washington, D.C., this winter.) “When we were working on Shows for Days,” Beatty said, “I would notice where its star, Patti LuPone, would stand. She has great instincts for exactly where in the Newhouse are the very alive places.” She is, he said, “like a diviner, prospecting for water, and when she finds it she drills deep.”

Shows for Days takes place in Reading, Pennsylvania, as does Lynn Nottage’s new drama, Sweat, which just finished an acclaimed run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with a Beatty design, and which will move to Arena Stage in January prior to landing in New York.  “I joke that I’ve just gone through the Reading stage of my career,” Beatty said. “Shows for Days and Sweat seem very different but they are both looking at Reading, one of the poorest cities in America, and asking: What happened?”

Similarly, Beatty said, Peter Parnell, the author of Dada Woof Papa Hot, is also looking at an environment and asking how social change came about. “I’ve done a lot of plays set in period, but I find that I’m especially fascinated by the way we live now, and how to design for that.”

Beatty’s aesthetic evolves based on the demands of the story. Just look at his work in the Newhouse. He said: “I was watching the new play and saying to myself: I can’t believe I designed Playboy of the Western World here years ago and we were outdoors in Trinidad.” He added: “The Mitzi is the great chameleon. It’s wonderful for new plays, because it concentrates everything so well.”

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of