Mr. Parker, the latest play by Michael McKeever whose Daniel’s Husband has been produced twice Off Broadway, has been given a stylish production by director Joe Brancato who also directed the earlier play. David Goldstein’s one-room studio set situated in the East Village is elegant and cozy. The costumes by Myra Oney are chic. The acting by its trio of actors is polished and urbane. Even its premise of a gay man dealing with the sudden death of a long-time partner and husband is up-to-date and timely. However, as written the play seems superficial and slight. Dramatically it avoids all the big scenes that might have been included. It remains entertaining but without the payoff one wants in such a drama.
Terry Parker initially addresses the audience. He tells us that he is turning 54 and still mourning the loss of Jeff, a famous artist, his partner of 30 years and husband of seven, after a car accident seven months ago. After all of these months of being alone, he has finally gotten himself up and out and went to a bar. It is the next morning and he wakes up with 28-year-old Justin, an attractive bartender/Uber driver, at Jeff’s studio apartment that they kept all of these years.
At first not certain he is ready for a relationship, but he decides that Justin makes him happy although they have little in common. Unfortunately, Cassandra St. Clare, Jeff’s sister and his former agent, does not agree. She is certain that it will end badly for Terry and that Justin should disappear now before they become too involved. The only other complication is that the Whitney Museum wants to do a retrospective of Jeff’s work, but Terry cannot make up his mind to move on and let this show happen. He doesn’t want to accept Jeff’s death to be a fait accompli.
While the story of a widowed gay man is quite timely with all the recent deaths from Covid, the play has a lack of details and many unanswered questions. All we learn about Terry is that he published one novel and has written nothing since. Did he not have a career the whole time he was with Jeff? Justin is a little more forthcoming but we don’t learn much about his past. The relationship and the attraction is a given rather than something we see building or progressing in the play’s seven scenes. The age difference is such that Terry always has to explain his references. All Cassandra and Terry talk about is the upcoming show at the Whitney which is in jeopardy of being canceled if Terry does not make a decision.
Under Brancato’s direction, the acting is also somewhat superficial. Derek Smith’s internalized performance does not indicate a man in love. As Justin, Davi Santos is vivacious and effervescent but does not indicate why Terry is enraptured by him except his youth. Mia Matthews’ Cassandra is efficient, tough, energetic and powerful. However, we never learn more about her than that she was Jeff’s sister, handled his career and is married to a man she has grown distant from. In fact, she is so much like the mother in Daniel’s Husband that one is tempted to check in the program that she has not played that role previously (she hasn’t.)
While the writing is graceful and literate, the play has little impact even though it toys with big emotions. The dialogue sounds like an old-fashioned drawing room comedy but without the complications that usually accompany that genre. The play seems like a story told in recollection with many of the facts forgotten. Possibly if the play were longer and more of the story was filled in, this would not seem so thin an experience. Note: a brief scene of nudity at the top of the show requires that all cellphones be placed in secure Yondr bags and locked during the play.
Mr. Parker (through June 25, 2022)
Penguin Rep Theatre
Theatre One at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.bfany.org/theatre-row/shows/mr-parker/
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission