The first scene of Daniel’s Husband is so delightfully charming and funny that you settle into your seat at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre, ready to spend a happy evening with an appealing gay couple and two of their friends.
Don’t get too comfortable. By the last scene you may be sniffling instead of smiling. What happens along the way goes well beyond the play’s ostensible topic of marriage equality—it’s a profound look at love and commitment and the uncertainties of life.
Daniel and Mitchell are the likable couple who seem perfectly matched—not to mention perfect. Daniel (played with panache by Ryan Spahn) is a handsome and successful architect who has decorated a beautiful home and cooks up a flawless dinner party, including crème brûlée. His partner Mitchell (an excellent Matthew Montelongo) is a successful writer of popular fiction—though he self-deprecatingly calls himself a gay Barbara Cartland.
Their guests at that dinner party are Mitchell’s close friend Barry (Lou Liberatore) and the young date he has brought along, Trip. He’s so young, in fact, that he skips across the stage and when the names Cyndi Lauper and Madonna come up, he smilingly says that he remembers hearing his grandmother talking about them.
But as with every character in this extremely well-written play by Michael McKeever, Trip goes well beyond the stereotype you might expect. He may be young enough never to have held a record album before (Daniel collects them) but he turns out to be thoughtful and caring and much wiser than his older date.
Daniel and Mitchell have been together for seven years and are engagingly in love—but not engaged. When Trip expresses surprise, Mitchell explains that he does not believe in gay marriage.
“How can you not believe in it? It’s not like it’s Santa Claus,” says Trip (played by Leland Wheeler).
Mitchell goes into an impassioned diatribe about marriage being a musty contract and an archaic institution “forged in that crucible of all things evil”—religion and Madison Avenue.
While that may be a reasonable complaint against all marriage, he feels even more passionately against gay marriage. Mitchell doesn’t understand why his community now aspires to be average and follow standard paths. “I love being unique in a world that’s full of ‘normal,’” he says. “As a gay man, I relish not being like everyone else.”
Daniel ends the lecture and reminds him that it’s a party. But a week later they discuss it again, just the two of them, and Daniel admits that he wants to be married. He doesn’t want to wake up one day and wonder why they didn’t take the opportunity when they could.
“I’m not going to live with that kind of regret,” he says.
Though the play doesn’t touch on politics, you can feel the undercurrent of concern that none of us know what rights are yet to be taken away.
The scene ends with a dramatic twist that changes everything—and leaves both Daniel and Mitchell living with a much deeper regret than they could ever have dreamed.
It would be wrong to reveal too much, because playwright McKeever takes such a powerful and unexpected turn that you are left gasping.
But that’s what happens in life, isn’t it?
The fact that Daniel and Mitchell aren’t legally married becomes a problem in letting them stay together. And yet Mitchell’s earlier stance—that you can love someone without a piece of paper to prove it—is also proven right.
Daniel’s mother Lydia (played by Anna Holbrook) becomes an important player in their lives. Her first appearance in their home is as full of humor as that opening dinner party scene. Lydia calls Mitchell and Daniel her two wonderful boys and seems genuinely to adore both of them.
Even after the upheaval, when Lydia ultimately comes between Daniel and Mitchell, McKeever doesn’t make it easy to hate her. Maybe Lydia is self-centered, but that doesn’t seem to be all that motivates her.
Plays with a social message can sometimes feel more pedantic than dramatic. But this beautifully written and powerfully acted show avoids that problem. It tells us that it is both a gift and a torment to love someone very much. And no, it doesn’t require a piece of paper.
Daniel’s Husband is at the Cherry Lane Theatre, NYC, through April 28. Book tickets here.