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Daniel’s Husband

It’s hard not to laugh throughout most of the proceedings, and then to cry at the end of this patently gay play.

Anna Holbrook, Matthew Montelongo and Lou Liberatore in a scene from Michael McKeever’s “Daniel’s Husband” (Photo credit: James Leynse)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

It shouldn’t take more than a second or two to realize from its title alone that Daniel’s Husband is a gay play. It’s quickly confirmed in the opening minutes of the play, when the conversation bandies about comparisons between “boxers or briefs,” Star Wars versus Star Trek, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, and Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. For that matter, even Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon are posed against each other. It’s also revealing when Lauper and Madonna’s names are mentioned that the youngest of the four gay characters on stage–he’s named Trip–says, “I think my grandmother used to talk about them.” Trip also, in this opening scene, beholds a record album for the first time in his life.

Trip is Barry’s latest, much younger boyfriend, and the two of them are guests at Mitchell and Daniel’s “perfectly appointed home” (perfectly designed by Brian Prather), having some Rosemary Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée following dinner. It isn’t until Trip goes into the kitchen with Daniel, that Mitchell, a novelist, says to Barry, his agent, “What is he, twelve?” and Barry replies that he’s 23, while confirming that he himself is 45. “If you’re 45, he’s a fetus,” says Mitchell, with the typically smart, gay banter that all but consumes the first of eight scenes, in this deceptively comic play by Michael McKeever. In the end, Daniel’s Husband proves to be a good old-fashioned tearjerker.

Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo in a scene from Michael McKeever’s “Daniel’s Husband” (Photo credit: James Leynse)

Daniel is an architect, who after seven years together with Mitchell, wants to marry him. (Mitchell is described as “the 21st Century gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland.”) But if Mitchell is opposed to gay marriage, the tragedy of their story ultimately hinges on the fact that they’re not married–for reasons which won’t be divulged here. Suffice to say, that Daniel’s wealthy mother Lydia is involved. And it’s not because her son is gay. In fact, a good amount of dialogue is spent on how proud Lydia is that she has a gay son. “Gay sons are the best,” she says. “They’re the most attentive. The most caring. They’re sensitive to your needs and loving in a way that few people are.”

It’s also telling that all of Lydia’s stipulated reasons for being “blessed to have a gay son” amount to selfish ones, and that Daniel blames his mother for his late father’s failure to have become a successful artist. One of the unseen items on the stage’s fourth wall is the Jackson Pollack-like painting by Daniel’s father, which becomes a regular topic of conversation throughout the play.

Ryan Spahn, Lou Liberatore, Leland Wheeler and Matthew Montelongo in a scene from Michael McKeever’s “Daniel’s Husband” (Photo credit: James Leynse)

In keeping with the usually humorous remarks, when Mitchell says he doesn’t believe in gay marriage, Trip asks, “How can you not believe in it. It’s not like it’s Santa Claus.” And, after inviting some lesbian neighbors over for dinner, Lydia says, “Everyone knows lesbians love chicken.” Lydia is visiting Daniel and Mitchell for a week–from where, we’re never really told, but it always involves trips to and from the airport. Nor does it take long to size Lydia up, as she shows off pictures of her four dogs and three cats on her iPhone, and refers to her membership in the Red Hat Society, which recently sponsored a “kazoo recital.” When she arrives the first of several times and is introduced to Barry, the no-nonsense Lydia also says, “You’re the agent…. The one who drinks too much and dates all the young boys.”

If anything, you might feel that Daniel’s Husband is terminally cute or realize that it can never completely transcend the sitcom attributes and tendencies it shares. Still, it’s hard not to laugh throughout most of the proceedings, and then to cry in the end. Directed with verve and panache by Joe Brancato, it’s also performed with consistently fine results by its five-member ensemble.

Matthew Montelongo is particularly effective in conveying Mitchell’s anti-marriage convictions, only to make us feel Mitchell’s subsequent anguish. Anna Holbrook is also outstanding as the self-centered Lydia, smartly dressed in Jennifer Caprio’s always dead-on costumes. But it would be an oversight not to also applaud Ryan Spahn as Daniel, Lou Liberatore as Barry, and Leland Wheeler as Trip. If Montelongo and Holbrook somehow emerge as acting victors, it may be because they have, in some respects, the two richest roles. (Mitchell and Lydia duke out their ultimate conflict offstage, in a court of a law.) In an odd way, Daniel’s Husband is ultimately the age-old story about THE mother-in-law, which may have given rise to many a comedian’s jokes, but, can often have lethal consequences for any married couple–whether they’ve literally tied the knot or not.

Daniel’s Husband (through April 28, 2017)

Primary Stages

Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-352-3101, or visit http://www.primarystages.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (26 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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