It is not often that a play connects with you in such a way as to rouse a full range of emotions while dealing with subjects that are at once very personal and universal. I experienced such a play the other evening when I saw Dezart Performs’ brilliant production of Michael McKeever’s play, DANIEL’S HUSBAND. To paraphrase a line the commonly found in reviews, “I laughed, I cried, I was truly moved.”
The play begins with a breezy quip-filled after the main course of a dinner thrown by Mitchell (David Youse), a writer who has achieved at least a modicum of success and his architect partner Daniel (Michael Shaw). Their guests for the evening are Barry (Chuck Yates), Mitchell’s friend and agent along with his latest boy-toy Trip (Hanz Enyeart), who works as a home healthcare aide. After some very clever dialogue and funny jokes, often centering on Barry’s taste for much younger men, the subject of politics rears its ugly head. Daniel tries to change the topic by suggesting a game but eventually that fails and like an unwanted houseguest, the topic returns. Mitchell grabs his chance to stand on his virtual soap box, as apparently he usually does whenever the subject of politics, especially gay marriage, arises. Daniel would very much like to take a walk down the aisle with Mitchell. Mitchell, on the other hand, does not believe in marriage which makes taking that walk together rather difficult. We quickly see two things about Daniel and Mitchell: They have totally different views on many issues including gay marriage and that despite all that, they are very much in love.
The next scene introduces Lydia (Deborah Harmon), Daniel’s very rich and rather bored mother who has come for a visit. She promises to be no bother at all. She then announces that she has invited the neighboring lesbian couple for dinner telling her excellent chef son to make that chicken dish with the sauce. When Daniel asks for more qualification, Lydia replies that it doesn’t matter since “everybody knows Lesbians love chicken.”
When finally alone, the marriage argument resurfaces before a tragedy occurs which changes the direction of their lives and consequently the tone and the course of the rest of the play. To give any more detail would be, in my opinion, a major spoiler and undermine some of the impact of the play. Let me just say that we see how decisions we make and actions we may or may not take can have unforeseen impact on our lives and those of others as well.
The early part of the play does have a sitcom-like feel to it, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in DANIEL’S HUSBAND it helps strengthen the effect the latter part of the play had on me. What’s important is that you not only care for but genuinely like Mitchell and Daniel and that you believe in them as a couple.
Under Darin Anthony’s meticulous direction, the play is prevented from sinking into a melodramatic tone which could so easily happen. The pace in the opening scenes is one of brisk comedy which makes the sudden shift in tone all the more effective. Dezart Performs attracts some of the finest performers in the area to its productions. With DANIEL’S HUSBAND, Mr. Anthony continues the legacy with this extraordinary cast. Although seemingly ignorant of anyone or anything before the mid 90’s, Mr. Enyeart gives us a Trip who although unfamiliar with or uneducated about many things is, in some wise, the wisest character onstage. In his sometimes simplistic ways he is able to see right to the core of what really is important. As Mitchell’s agent, Barry, Chuck Yates makes their relationship not only one of business but one of friendship as well and shows in many tiny ways how much he cares about Mitchell as the play propels its way towards its powerful conclusion. Nothing shy of a human tornado in force and power, Deborah Harmon at one moment makes Lydia a quirky gal just looking to amuse herself with projects and activities into a frighteningly fierce mother in a moment who would give Medea a run for her money. As the central characters of the play Michael Shaw’s Daniel beautifully shows the fire of his love. His monologue when disaster strikes is quietly delivered, as if talking to a few friends rather than an audience, making its impactall the more powerful. Finally David Youse gives a remarkable performance as Mitchell. He shows every bit of the range of emotions his character goes through during the play without ever over-doing it. From joy and happiness, to fear and unbridled anger, Mr. Youse is always totally believable at every moment. His joy is our joy and his pain is our pain and yes I did cry, so you might want to bring some tissues along just in case.
DANIEL’S HUSBAND is playing through January 19, 2020 and I urge you to see this fine evening of theatre. To purchase tickets or for further information visit Dezartperforms.org.
All photos by David A. Lee