Primary stages presents sentimental drama by Michael McKeever at Cherry Lane Theater.
By: Patrick Christiano
Playwright Michael McKeever tackles weighty thought provoking territory in his latest play, Daniel’s Husband, about the relationship of a successful gay couple, Daniel an architect played by Ryan Spahn, and his partner Mitchell, a writer of gay fiction played by Matthew Montelongo. For the past seven-years the two men have lived in their perfectly appointed home, which Daniel designed and where the play is set. Their story begins amusingly with some witty banter just after a dinner that Daniel, also an excellent chef has prepared for Mitchell’s agent Barry, an aging gay man played by Lou Liberatore, and his latest conquest Trip, a 23 year- old special home care aid played by Leland Wheeler.
Drinking wine after dinner and avoiding politics, the couples make silly talk about jelly beans versus gummy bears and Cyndi Lauper versus Madonna. This feels like a set up and terribly gay. When the flippant chat turns to marriage, we realize a sore point between Daniel and Mitchell has come up, as Mitchell launches into an extended tirade on his anti-marriage views, an outdated institution he doesn’t feel compelled to participate in. An institution, Daniel would like to commit himself to, but it takes two to stride up the aisle, Mitchell lashes out. Distressed, Daniel retreats to the kitchen, and we understand this is a long running conflict between the couple.
Completing the cast is Daniel’s outspoken mother Lydia, who flies in the following day for an extended stay, played by Anna Holbrook. Before she even enters the front door, we learn how challenging her presence is for Daniel, and during her visit, he confronts her by sharing his belief that she was a terrible mother. Mitchell drives Lydia to the airport, but when he arrives home, Daniel steers the conversation away from his mother and back to their clash on marriage.
Under Joe Brancato’s direction the evening is happily gay until Mitchell’s strident outburst. What follows in McKeever’s predictable tale feels manipulative and often contrived with basically stereotypical characters used to craft the playwright’s opinions. For the play to work you must buy into the romance between the two men at the center of the story, and although the actors are likeable and their work earnest, you never feel a chemistry beyond friendship.
Further complicating matters the performances in Brancato’s staging all lack emotional depth so the play turns overly talky, because the conflicts do not accumulate spontaneously with specific points of long held resentment. Without a passionately layered subtext, the evening fails to engage or resonate with authenticity. Most of the audience didn’t care in the least and were happily persuaded, even impressed.
Daniel’s Husband is now playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, through April 28, 2017. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $72 with $20 student rush one hour before at the box office. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.primarystages.org or call 212-352-3101 Photos: James Leynse