By Sandi Durell
What makes a play an immediate ‘sit up and take notice!’ There’s the sense that the quality of fine performances deal with insightful realities in which the performers are notably invested. And even more, the playwright has an uncanny ability to create illusion that may take you on a journey you think you’ve travelled before until you suddenly realize you never expected your emotions would be tossed and turned in so many different directions. It’s that simple . . . but, oh, no, not simple at all. Michael McKeever is a seasoned and brilliant writer, and Daniel’s Husband is a powerful look into the world of gay couples, the human condition, fundamental rights and unforeseen circumstances with lessons to be learned.
A small dinner party opens the play hosted by Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo) and his significant other, architect Daniel (Ryan Spahn) in their well-designed home (Brian Prather, set design), where Mitchell’s friend and literary agent Barry (Lou Liberatore) and his latest boy toy Trip, a home caregiver (Leland Wheeler), are playing word games: jelly beans or gummy bears, Star Wars or Star Trek – the banter upbeat, somewhat cliche, but free and fraught with comic one-liners that land well. Suddenly, things take a more serious turn when the conversation steers to gay marriage. Mitchell and Daniel add salt to open wounds that exist in their loving, seven year relationship as Mitchell potently expounds on his theories as an opponent of marriage – gay or straight – there’s just no need to follow traditions Mitchell doesn’t believe in! “When did it become so important to the gay community to be like ‘everyone else?’ When did ‘everyone else’ and ‘average’ become things to aspire to?” . . . “The only thing to be gained . . . is the legal stuff . . .”
Young Trip just doesn’t understand . . . ‘how can you not believe in it? It’s not Santa Claus.’ Daniel, as his anger rises, just wants to be married, especially now, when gays can be married and have equality. Albeit, Daniel and Mitchell had wills drawn up making each other the sole beneficiary – information duly noted.
Enter Lydia Bixby (Anna Holbrook), Daniel’s annoying, larger than life mother, whom he definitely does not adore, coming for a several day visit – whatever is on her mind is on her tongue. She’s a whirlwind of criticism but professes her love for Mitchell, she’s happy her son is gay, and prods them to get married, as she constantly undermines her dead husband (whom she probably drove to the grave), as Daniel takes it mainly on the chin, the tension rising. Lydia lives with her four dogs, three cats and is a recent member of the Red Hat Ladies. Enough said. Her chatter becomes unbearable, Daniel, unable to contain his emotions, lets her know she was a terrible it’s-all-about-me mother.
Suddenly, the stage goes dark (Christina Watanabe, lighting design), and Daniel appears in a spotlight with a sobering monologue that changes the course of . . . everything! In an unexpected minute, life deals its blows of right and wrong, of faultless truths and regrets, testing the very core of the meaning of love, of who we are and how we either elevate or disintegrate.
This ensemble of fine actors is seamlessly woven together through a tapestry of multi-level themes via the fine hand of director Joe Brancato who, like the actors, are each devoted to telling the truth and exalt the human experience.
Daniel’s Husband will remain with you as a powerful piece of writing and reflection.
Photos: James Leynse
Primary Stages in association with Ted Snowdon at Cherry Lane Theatre, 32 Commerce Street, thru April 28.
Run Time: 95 minutes