Daniel's Husband

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater

A good acting ensemble can elevate an otherwise ordinary story, and Daniel's Husband by Michael McKeever proves that to be true. A largely domestic comedy with tragic overtones, the story gains its resonance from the interactions among the characters as they grapple with life and its surprises.

Daniel (Bill Brochtrup) and Mitchell (Tim Cummings) are domestic partners who have lived happily and lovingly together for seven years. Daniel is an architect whose home is a reflection of his taste and success. Mitchell is a writer whose fame comes from writing romantic fiction which he produces with regularity. They are entertaining Barry (Ed F. Martin), Mitchell's literary agent, with his newest fling, Trip (Jose Fernando), a healthcare worker, who is many years younger than Barry, apparently one of a long string of Barry's crushes. They are charming, witty, and life seems to be ideal. That is, until Trip asks why Daniel and Mitchell aren't married after so many years together.

McKeever sets the stage for arguments that have been percolating in society as couples come together to cohabit. Is marriage the best option when two people want to commit? Should a gay couple marry now that they are legally able to do so? What happens when one is for marriage and one isn't? This is the crux of the dilemma facing Daniel and Mitchell, and McKeever delivers a shattering finale when Daniel becomes incapacitated, and they have taken no steps to legally establish their relationship.

It might have worked out had Daniel's mother not entered the picture. Lydia (Jenny O'Hara) has come for a visit, and we learn that she and Daniel are not close, and she is well meaning but a powerful personality. When Daniel is no longer able to articulate his wishes, she steps in and tries to take custody legally, a wrenching distress for Mitchell. She has the wealth to take charge, and Mitchell has no legal grounds to stop her.

Articulating that storyline can't capture the tenor of the men's relationship nor the raw anguish that Mitchell expresses when he finds he can no longer take care of his life partner. Though the issue is focused on the gay couple and their personal dilemma, McKeever manages to elevate the problem so that any audience member can begin to think about quality-of-life issues, relationships, and the give and take of compromise. There are no  facile resolutions, and all the characters have points of view that bear consideration.

Brochtrup and Cummings make their relationship believable, sympathetic, and complex. O'Hara makes a compelling case for her interference, and her portrait of the mother is subtle and nuanced.

Martin and Fernando's characterizations normalize what could be too melodramatic if focused solely on the crisis. They interject as friends who have a role to play as tragedy strikes, and they must look on. Both handle their parts with just the right sense of support.

Director Simon Levy skillfully provides a balanced and evenhanded touch at the lighthearted and charming outset, but when Daniel's fate has to be decided, he gives the actors space to explore the realism of the situation with empathy and believability. His emphasis on the multi-dimensional nature of the characters adds to the thoughtful import of the story.

DeAnne Millais' scenic design creates a modern simplicity to the men's home, and Jennifeer Edwards lights it effectively. Peter Bayne's sound design also adds dramatic effect when music enhances the script.

This is a play that resonates long after the final moments. McKeever follows the dramatic ending with a flashback that allows the audience to revisit Daniel and Mitchell in a sweeter moment. Thanks to the fine production, this night of theater stimulates discussion and debate.