Revisiting Daniel’s Husband: A Cautionary Tale of Gay Marriage

Anna Holbrook, Matthew Montelongo and Ryan Spahn. Photo by Carol Rosegg (2)
Lou Liberatore, Ryan Spahn (seated), Matthew Montelongo, Leland Wheeler. Photo: Carol Rosegg

The Review: Daniel’s Husband

By Ross

I first went to see Daniel’s Husband when it played at The Cherry Lane Theatre, and all I could utter when it was all over to my fellow theatre junkie, Steve, who was oddly more devastated than I was, a very uncommon moment for the both of us, was that “I wasn’t prepared for that”. Once again as I’ve said before, the wonderfulness of not having any idea where something is heading is truly my most favorite position to be in when walking into the theatre. This was no exception back then, and on second viewing, the knowledge of where this piece is heading did alter the experience, but I wouldn’t say for the worse.  It gave me insight in to the shimmers of what was coming, weaved most delicately into the upholstery. On first viewing I took that as awkward artificial writing, but this time in those threads I found gold. Michael McKeever (Clark Gable Slept Here) has crafted something that is equally complex and engaging even on repeat. In McKeever’s new play, Daniel’s Husband, we are invited in for a dinner party, a theatrical setting that numerous classic conflict-laden pieces are set.  As is customary for these types of serious relationship/family dramas, the group has gathered in a well-appointed living room for wine, conversation, and some delicious sounding dessert (I want one, please). This time around, it is the lovely home of the perfect gay couple; the gentle architect Daniel Bixby (Spahn) and his handsome manly boyfriend, novelist Mitchell Howard, expertly played by Matthew Montelongo (Cherry Lane’s One Night). Daniel, keenly and precisely played by the wondrous Ryan Spahn (Transport Group/CSC’s Summer and Smoke), has created a modern clean living environment, perfect for entertaining guests for intimate dinner parties with his loving partner. On this particular night, they have invited Mitchell’s close friend and literary agent, Barry Dylon, wonderfully played by a subtle Lou Liberatore (Broadway’s Burn This) and his adorably young new boyfriend, Trip, the home care specialist, lovingly and maturely portrayed by the touchingly sweet Leland Wheeler (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”).

Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo. Photo by Carol Rosegg.JPG
Ryan Spahn, Leland Wheeler,Lou Liberatore. Photo: Carol Rosegg

All is going well, with witty conversations and delicious creme brûlée surrounded by post modern furniture, an old fashioned record collection, and modern art with an angry edge, created by the impeccable design team of scenic designer, Brian Prather (Off-Broadway’s Heartbreak House); costume designer  Gregory Gale (Broadway’s Rock of Ages): lighting designer, Jeff Croiter (Broadway’s Bandstand); and original music & sound design by William Neal (Off-Broadway’s Small World), when Trip mistakenly refers to the perfect couple as a married one. It seems that this is a point of contention, a place where the conflict between Daniel and his boyfriend lies strong and hardwired.  Daniel wants a wedding, deeply and achingly, but Mitchell is adamantly against becoming anyone’s husband, for numerous strongly stated reasons, some which I also whole-heartingly agree with.  It’s an intense exchange that is very relatable and intense, although it contains a lecture that abruptly comes to an end with a closing argument of  “ENOUGH” shouted strongly and finally by Daniel.  I remember thinking, this is where the story will spin out from, but in the moment it remained unclear just how this subject of gay marriage and commitment will eventually be played out and debated as it is most definitely where this story is heading.

Anna Holbrook, Matthew Montelongo and Ryan Spahn. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Anna Holbrook, Matthew Montelongo, Ryan Spahn. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Enter Daniel’s mother, the well-heeled modern and socially conscious Lydia Bixby, played with a needy and brittle demeanor by the talented 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 everyone around her, including her uncomfortable son. The conversation as written feels contrived at moments, making sure all the complexities of their relationships are firmly stated and in place without giving any clues away about what is in store. It’s well structured and even more wisely played now than before as directed neatly by Joe Brancato (Off-Broadway’s Tryst, Cobb). We are thoroughly engaged in this couple, loving and caring for them as if they were our own, waiting in expectation for the dilemma to present itself.  The only question that remained was: in what form will it come? Well, once again, I’m not going to tell you, but it does arrive soon after with a crack that shocks, and the choices these two have made over the course of their seven year relationship will have intense consequences, devastatingly so.

Matthew Montelongo and Anna Holbrook. Photos Carol Rosegg.JPG
Matthew Montelongo, Anna Holbrook. Photo: Carol Rosegg

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, while others desire being on the inside. Although it’s clear that Mitchell is going to have to deal with himself and his stance for a long time coming, we sit firmly with this couple, and believe in their love and attachment to each other. The writing is clearly defined, although moments feel a tad scripted as the playwright makes sure all the political points are clearly stated, yet all the avenues are well canvased. For such an intimate and quiet drama to unfold, their rowdy neighbors, The Other Josh Cohen (not the lesbians next door) need to turn down their loud music as it is overpowering  and distracting us from the intensity on stage and dark emotionality. The true details of Daniel’s Husband require full engagement, and the disco beat coming from below is fracturing the connection. In the moments outside of this particular problem, the dynamics doesn’t always feel completely authentic, but the debate being presented isn’t one-sided either.  Both paths 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, for Daniel’s Husband is a cautionary story we all need to hear, feel, and fully understand.

Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo. Photo by Carol Rosegg (2)
Matthew Montelongo, Ryan Spahn in Daniel’s Husband at the Westside Theatre. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
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