By Ron Fassler
At the beginning of Daniel’s Husband, Michael McKeever’s play, the lights come up on a well-appointed living room set (designed by Brian Prather). Four men enter, mid-conversation, and it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out the relationships, or that they are all gay men happily enjoying the after-effects of a fine home cooked meal. The chef is Daniel, an architect (Ryan Spahn), who lives with his lover of seven years, an author of gay-themed books named Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo). Mitchell’s best friend (and agent) is Barry (Lou Liberatore), about fifty, who has a predilection for dating men much younger than himself, as evidenced by Trip (Leland Wheeler), a twenty-three year-old, who is Barry’s date for the evening. The playwright would have us believe that Trip is so young and naïve that he has never listened to (or even seen) a record album in his life.
So far, so good. We are watching a funny, if somewhat benign domestic comedy, and it’s pretty entertaining. But when, about ten minutes into the play, the subject of gay marriage comes up, the comedy takes a back seat. We get Mitchell’s take on the issue (he’s against it for himself, but not for anyone else, in theory), and it’s immediately apparent it is a difficult bone of contention between him and his partner. Mitchell has no intention of becoming, as the play is titled, Daniel’s Husband. Then a few scenes later, as if out of nowhere, something happens that takes the play in an entirely new direction, removing any and all comedy from the situation. I have no intention of spoiling what it is that happens, but I’m not sure the play entirely recovers from the shift in tone, going as it does from light comedy to heavy drama. It’s not so much that the play can’t handle such a sharp-turn, but I yearned for it to be executed a bit better. All the characters speak exactly what is on their minds. There is little subtext, and the confrontations often don’t have the ping-pong effect that makes for an audience siding with one character, then the other, then switching back and forth, which makes for the richest kind of dramatic conflict. Having recently seeing Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song in the revival that is opening on Broadway November 1st, the confrontation between that play’s lead character and his mother late in the play, is as fine an example there is of a playwright’s ability to carry both sides of a conversation with equal intensity. I think that in Daniel’s Husband, McKeever falls slightly short of achieving that desired weight and balance.
Having received a well-reviewed production in 2017 by way of Primary Stages at off Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, Daniel’s Husband has now been brought back for an open-ended engagement at the Westside Arts Theatre in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Director Joe Brancato has reassembled the entire cast, which also includes Anna Holbrook as Daniel’s mother, Lydia (giving an excellent performance). The whole ensemble is strong, with not a weak link in the company. I particularly liked Ryan Spahn as Daniel, who brings a relaxed energy that serves him well in the play’s early scenes. And Leland Wheeler excels at Trip, displaying a charm and down-to-earth quality that comes in handy later in the play, when he is called upon to return in an unexpected capacity.
The honesty and sincerity in McKeever’s writing add a definite plus to the events of his play. And even if it would benefit from a bit more heft behind its well-intentioned ambitions, there is every reason that if you take the journey with these characters, you may very well find Daniel’s Husband worth the trip.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Daniel’s Husband – Westside Arts Theatre, 407 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 www.danielhusband.com
90 minutes no intermission