A few years ago, Geoffrey Nauffts' play NEXT FALL chronicled the awful things that can happen to a gay couple who have no legal protections before the Supreme Court made gay marriage the law of the land. Michael McKeever's well-written DANIEL'S HUSBAND covers much of the same ground. DANIEL'S HUSBAND is a textbook example of a finely crafted play, but, really, what is wrong with those people up there on stage?
Daniel and Mitchell seem to have the perfect life. Daniel is a brilliant, successful architect who comes from a wealthy family and Mitchell makes a decent living writing gay fiction (does anybody still write gay fiction?? Whatever happened to Gordon Merrick??). They live in a gorgeous house that Daniel designed. Daniel is also a gourmet cook and the couple only drink vintage wines and well-aged whiskies. Mitchell's best friend is Barry, his agent, who is drawn to short-term trysts with men thirty years his junior. One of them, the adorable Trip, loves his job as a caregiver to invalids who can't take care of themselves. Trip is like the gun Chekhov commented on: "If you show a gun in Act I, it has to be used in Act III." The only other character is Daniel's totally self-absorbed mother, a very spoiled rich woman who is used to getting her way--another Chekhovian gun.
When Trip asks Daniel and Mitchell why they aren't married, Mitchell goes off on a rant about what is wrong with marriage in general and gay marriage in particular. He drowns out Trip's arguments for marriage, though ultimately Barry has the best rejoinder, "Because we can." Not only are Daniel and Mitchell without the legal protections of marriage; they have never signed a health care power of attorney. What could possibly go wrong in their ideal lives? Well, something goes very, very wrong. McKeever has crafted his play brilliantly, moving from witty banter to argument to crisis. There were a lot of laughs in the first half and a lot of sniffling during the denouement. Yet I could not help thinking, as I did with NEXT FALL, how stupid the ocuple was not to get appropriate legal protection. Back before gay marriage when my place of employment recognized same-sex domestic partnerships, we had to bring in a set of documents to register--wills, legal power of attorney and health care power of attorney. In other words, Duke ensured that we were legally protected as domestic partnerships. Married or not, every couple needs these protections. The horrors than ensue for the couple in DANIEL'S HUSBAND hinge on unsigned documents.
Joe Brancato has paced the play effectively (the production originated at Penguin Rep in Stony Point, NY) and the cast couldn't be better. Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo made a convincing couple. Montelongo has the more emotionally demanding role and he managed to modulate Mitchell's grief and anger perfectly. From Row H, Anna Holbrook looked a decade or so too young to be Ryan Spahn's mother though Holbrook captured an intensely selfish woman who wants everyone to think well of her. Leland Wheeler managed to be sweet without being vapid and Lou Liberatore was the stalwart, adoring best friend. Bryan Prather's living room set looked too generic to be the work of a brilliant architect. When I walked into the theater and looked at the stage, I thought, "How many times have I seen this set?"
DANIEL'S HUSBAND got a prolonged standing ovation. It's not a masterpiece--it's an old-fashioned drama built to please. I don't mean that at all in a condescending way. It was a pleasure to experience such a well-made play with such a fine cast.