Theater review by Jenna Scherer
[Note: This is a review of Daniel's Husband's 2017 production at Primary Stages. The production has returned for an encore engagement at Westside Theatre, with its entire original cast.]
There's a pervasive sense of soapboxing to Daniel's Husband, Michael McKeever's relationship dramedy receiving its New York premiere from Primary Stages. The play centers on Daniel (Ryan Spahn) and Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo), a longtime couple who seem to have the perfect life. Daniel's an architect and Mitchell's a successful author; they live in a beautifully appointed home (props to designer Brian Prather) where they throw breezy dinner parties for their circle of friends.
Naturally, there's trouble in paradise. Daniel wants the two to tie the knot, and Mitchell doesn't believe in marriage—or rather, in the idea that gay men should aspire to heterosexual relationship norms. It's a debate certainly ripe for dramatization, and one whose primacy McKeever puts front and center from the get-go. "Oh God, please! No more politics," Mitchell's friend (Lou Liberatore) cries in the opening moments. But the playwright's point is clear: If you're a member of a minority that's subject to the machinations of the majority, the personal is always political—whether you want it to be or not.
Daniel's Husband begins as a genuine conversation, taking up McKeever's chosen topic and letting characters pass it back and forth and chew on its macro and micro implications. McKeever has a keen ear for dialogue, and the ways in which banter can curdle into rancor. But a Lifetime movie–style plot development causes the play to take stark turn, and the chance for subtlety and complexity goes out the window. This play has a lesson it wants to impart, hard.
Thanks to an excellent ensemble, you feel deeply for these characters, even as you realize you're being emotionally manipulated by a heavy authorial hand. Montelongo's Mitchell is prickly and adoring in equal measure, and Anna Holbrook delivers a delicately shaded performance as Daniel's mother. The magnetic Leland Wheeler makes much of one the show's smaller roles.
Joe Brancato's production is seamless and never drags, even when slogging through heavier material. But the polish of the delivery only makes the piece feel even more like an after-school special for grownups. It's hard to fully engage with a story that has already decided what conclusions it wants you to draw. Drama thrives when it asks a question, not when it already has the answer in mind.
Cherry Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Michael McKeever. Directed by Joe Brancato. With Matthew Montelongo, Ryan Spahn, Anna Holbrook. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
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