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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The banter is easy, the scene verging on triteness in its coziness. The young man gawks over seeing an actual vinyl album. Mitchell needles Barry over dating someone whose world view is based on what he's learned from The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Then Trip casually brings up the topic of marriage which is now legal for same-sex couples, and things get a whole lot less congenial. Mitchell does not believe in gay marriage. Daniel feels differently. Not only does he believe in gay marriage, he wants a ring.
As we travel farther down the road laid out by Michael McKeever in his drama, the landscape changes. A play that started as one thing becomes something infinitely more relevant and engaging.
In its compact but powerful 100 minutes, Simon Levy's production at Fountain Theatre pulls the rug on its audience a couple of times. Between the introduction of an additional character, the aforementioned tone shift, and a credible plot twist, Daniel's Husband should lead its viewers stunned and ready for a discussion. Levy also scored a significant coup by reuniting Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings, who previously appeared in his 2013 production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. They and the other three players are superb.
The more we learn about Daniel, the more interesting this man becomes. He's a successful architect and the son of a painter (now deceased) who didn't quite achieve greatness. Daniel's dynamo of mother, Lydia, (Jenny O'Hara), lives out of state, but visits too often for her son's liking. She loves that her son is successful, loves that he is gay (she nearly takes credit for it), adores Mitchell. She also wishes that the two were married. Although this last desire puts her more in line with Daniel's wishes than with Mitchell's, mother and son are often at odds. Then something happens, and new sides and allegiances are drawn.
A debate over the efficacy of gay marriage (especially one between two homosexual characters) can be the foundation of an interesting drama. But you can credit McKeever for having written a play that is as much about people as it is about ideas.
The eager-to-please Trip (Jose Fernando) may pull the first thread, but it's the older, more experienced, and presumably wiser Daniel and Mitchell who let the debate unravel and then snag.
Daniel's Husband contains bad decisions by key characters and some painful ironies, but no outright villains. McKeever gives us hope and sadness, and perhaps hope again.
The co-artistic director of L.A.'s Antaeus Theatre Company, Brochtrup is also one of the area's most interesting actors and he's got a role that is every bit in his wheelhouse. Daniel Bixby is a man who has split his time appeasing others while also doggedly pursuing his own goals, both personal and professional.
Surrounded as he is by characters who are militant, clueless, comically messy or puppy dog sweet, Brochtrup is the play's quiet heartbeat. The actor can end a conversation with an unexpected outburst of "enough!" But the spice he puts behind a line like "I do, I do, I do, I do" reveals a different side.
As good as Brochtrup is, the play is Mitchell's to equally command and Cummings is riveting. The frowzy yin to Brochtrup's well-coiffed yang , Cummings taps into the helplessness brought about when his talk must become action. Mitchell views himself as something of a sell-out, a writer of serious fiction who developed a following in the gay community through penning gay romance novels. He's successful in everything, including love, but he has to re-examine a key element of his beliefs. Cummings makes the changes, and the deepening of Mitchell, utterly compelling to watch.
At its heart this is a love story, and as we witness both the warmth, eroticism, and hopefulness of Daniel and Mitchell’s first date, we get a compelling argument for togetherness in whatever form it takes. You may find yourself choking up at the end of Daniel’s Husband. That emotion is entirely earned.
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Daniel's Husband by Michael McKeever
Directed by Simon Levy
Cast: Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jose Fernando, Ed Martin, Jenny O'Hara
Set Design: DeAnne Millais
Costume Design: Michael Mullen
Lighting Design: Jennifer Edwards
Original Music/Sound Design: Peter Bayne
Technical Director: Scott Tuomey
Production Stage Manager: Jessica Morataya
Plays through July 28, 2019 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles (323) 663-1525, www.FountainTheatre.com
Running time: One hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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