I wasn’t prepared for that. Once again, the wonderfulness of not having any idea where something is heading is truly my favorite position to be in when walking into the theatre. This was no exception. In Michael McKeever’s complex and engaging new play, Daniel’s Husband, we are invited in for a dinner party, the setting that starts numerous other conflict themed drama. As is customary for these types of serious relationship and family dramas, we join the group in a well appointed living room for wine, conversation, and some deliciously sounding dessert. Here, in this timely play, it is the lovely home of the perfect gay couple, architect Daniel Bixby and his boyfriend, novelist Mitchell Howard. Daniel, keenly and precisely played by Ryan Spahn (Primary Stage’s Exit Strategy) has created a modern clean living environment, perfect for entertaining guests with his loving partner, and on this particular night, they have invited Mitchell’s close friend and literary agent, Barry Dylon, wonderfully played by Lou Liberatore (Broadway’s Burn This) and his adorably young new boyfriend, Trip, the home care specialist, lovingly portrayed by Leland Wheeler (We Need to Talk About Kevin).
All is going well, with witty conversations and delicious creme brûlée surrounded by post modern furniture, an old fashioned record collection, a fireplace, and modern art (impeccable design team: scenic: Brian Prather; costume: Jennifer Caprio: lighting: Christina Watanabe; original music & sound Design: William Neal), when Trip mistakenly refers to the perfect couple as a married one. It seems that this is a point of contention, where the conflict between Daniel and his boyfriend lies. Daniel wants the wedding, but Mitchell is adamantly against becoming anyone’s husband, for numerous strongly stated reasons. It’s an intense exchange, somewhat artificial, but very relatable that contains a lecture and ends with a closing shout of “ENOUGH” by Daniel. It’s unclear how this topic of gay marriage will eventually be played out and debated, but it is definitely where this is headed.
Enter Daniel’s mother, the well-heeled modern and socially conscious Lydia Bixby, played with a needy and brittle charm by Anna Holbrook (Primary Stage’s The Dolphin Position). She’s wonderfully vocal and kind to Mitchell, but it is also clear she needs so much reassurance and attention from her uncomfortable son. The conversation as written here feels even more contrived at moments than the previous scene, making sure all the complexities of their relationships are firmly stated and in place without giving any clues away about what is in store. As neatly directed by Joe Brancato (Miracle on South Division Street), we are thoroughly engaged in this couple, loving and caring for them, waiting for the dilemma to present itself. In what form will it come? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but it does arrive soon after, and the choices these two have made over the course of their seven year relationship will have intense consequences, devastatingly so.
Daniel’s Husband expertly walks us through the complicated world where some hard fought human equality rights were won, but not desired by all. The right to marry, yes, but the personal desire to marry is a different thing. Some enjoy being outside the status quo and the traditional path, and although it’s clear that Mitchell is going to have to deal with his stance in the end, we are all firmly behind this couple, and believe in their love and attachment to each other, maybe more so than the liberal mother. The writing is clumsy and scripted at times, as it doesn’t always feel real, but the debate isn’t one-sided either. Both sides are well stated, and explored. It’s a beautifully crafted plot, expertly realized, that leaves us in shock. Devastatingly intense right up to the final moments, it is no easy walk in the park, nor down the aisle, but Daniel’s Husband is a cautionary story we all need to hear and understand.
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