BY MARILYN LESTER**** Daniel’s Husband is nothing less than a stunning play. This is a work that’s not only profoundly moving, but offers a wealth of insight into human nature via the journey of its five characters, two of whom seem to lead a life so perfect it’s impossible not to envy them. Yet, the trajectory of playwright Michael McKeever’s story turns from the desired to a dark, harsh reality that is anything but enviable. In a split-second the unexpected happens and the world changes drastically, heaving the protagonists, Daniel (Ryan Spahn) and Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo) into an uncharted territory in which nothing will ever be the same again. The future, once so seemingly boundlessly bright, is now uncertain.
At the top of Daniel’s Husband the mood is jolly. Daniel, an architect, and Mitchell, a writer, are entertaining their friend Barry (Lou Libratore), Mitchell’s agent, and Barry’s latest boy toy, Trip (Leland Wheeler), a professional care-giver embodying both youthful innocence and unwitting wisdom. (Trip will later become a small but profound strand in the tapestry that’s woven in the play.) It so happens that the universe inhabited by Daniel and Mitchell is a gay one, but the truths told are ultimately universal. There’s fun and plenty of laughs, which eventually yield to a charged argument between Daniel and Mitchell. A guileless question from Trip reveals a fundamental weak link in the relationship of the two men and the deep love they have for each other: Daniel wants to get married and Mitchell doesn’t believe in gay marriage, or marriage at all for that matter. Herein lies the philosophical locus that drives the unfolding of Daniel’s Husband. A fifth character, Daniel’s mother, Lydia (Anna Holbrook) also comes to figure in the story arc in a profoundly essential way: the catastrophic event that compromises Daniel pits Mitchell directly against Lydia, raising the notion of what might have been versus dealing with the hand that’s now been dealt. This face-off examines that which is defined by a document opposed to that which is defined by an intangible truth.
Director Joe Brancato has worked brilliantly with the material and his actors, creating a beautifully paced piece of remarkable authenticity, in which you may well believe you’re a fly on the wall of its reality. Each of the players is so completely invested in his/her character that their truth is unimpeachable. Moreover, McKeever has developed his characters with solidity; we know who these people are and what motivates them. As they navigate topics of regret, things taken for granted, the nature of “right” and “wrong,” and what it means to love, we know exactly where they’re coming from. There are no answers in Daniel’s Husband. The title is itself an irony, a subtle double-entendre. It puts you, the voyeur of this world unfolding, in a place to think about the nature of commitment – including how much you yield versus how much you stand pat to honor a belief or prove a point.
Rich in themes and ideas, the layers of meaning represent an abundant return on investment in play-going. While the topics addressed in the play are weighty and often sobering ones, Daniel’s Husband is never a downer, and its ending not without hope. This is a work that presents an all too rare opportunity to experience the creative brilliance of a playwright who not only has something to say, but whose insights into the human condition can be a powerful stimulant for personal reflection and evolution.
Daniel’s Husband is a presentation of Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, NYC.
Run time is 95 minutes without intermission.
Daniel’s Husband runs through April 28, 2017, playing Wed-Sat. at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm, with added performance at 8 pm on April 16.
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