The Fountain Theatre production of Michael McKeever’s 2018 off-Broadway hit “Daniel’s Husband” has been extended for another month and it’s easy to see why. Directed by Simon Levy, the play explores ideas about what love and commitment mean to different people and how those ideas can have a much greater impact on our futures than we can begin to realize.
Daniel Bixby and Mitchell Howard have been together for years. They live together, love each other and have shared every aspect of their every day as intimately as any married couple, which is what Daniel would love them to become. Mitchell doesn’t want it. Not only does he state that he doesn’t believe in the institution, he feels the very act would take something away from his/their identity as gay men. Daniel is an architect, Mitchell is a writer and both have enough success to enjoy a life together that is harmonious – except for this one thing, which Daniel feels is very important at this point in their lives.
Things come to a head when Daniel’s mother Lydia arrives for a visit. She adores both men, calling them her two sons, but her adoration and general tendency to put more of a value on her own experience and on all things material push Daniel to a breaking point. We don’t get to see what happens but one moment, his mother is visiting and throwing little verbal barbs [possibly unintentional ones, it is hard to say] at her son then the next moment, Daniel sits alone in the dark waiting for Mitchell to come back after his trip with mom to the airport.
When Mitchell returns, the two fight about Daniel’s desire to get married again. The fight is ended with an abrupt blast of sound and we see Daniel alone on stage in what one might call ‘monologue light’. He is there to tell us what happened to him – he has locked in syndrome and is no longer able to communicate though he is aware of everything that goes on. Mitchell relies on his manager and friend Barry Dylon for support while Barry’s latest ex-younger-lover Trip acts as one of Daniel’s caregivers [that’s his occupation, and he’s good at it]. Lydia decides she wants to bring her son home to give him all the care her money can buy. Even though Mitchell knows Daniel would loathe that, he is not married to Daniel and therefore has no rights. A legal battle ensues – and it is as emotional as you might imagine it is.
Simon Levy brings the two stars of his 2013 award-winning production of “The Normal Heart” together again and the chemistry and level of comfort between Bill Brochtrup (Daniel) and Tim Cummings (Mitchell) is palpable. Their relationship is easy to embrace and their sudden inability to communicate with each other is tragic. Jenny O’Hara walks a fine line as Lydia that alternately makes us want to hug the woman who seems to be quite alone in spite of her dogs and then scream at her for thinking she’s the one who should be with Daniel. Ed F. Martin speaks volumes in the moments when he is given nothing to say as we watch his Barry struggle with all the fear and doubt that Daniel’s sudden turn might offer a man of such certainty when we meet him. Jose Fernando lets Trip be a little bit naive as the youngest of the group without making him seem too out of touch and ultimately his character might be the best adjusted out of all of them.
Spoilers ahead for anyone wanting to see the play so stop reading now if you want to be surprised.
By all accounts per all the doctors we sense Mitchell and Lydia have consulted to the point where we catch up to them, it doesn’t seem Daniel has any hope of getting better. The legal battle between Mitchell and Lydia leaves us wondering about a lot of things – but in particular, Mitchell’s earlier argument re: marriage just being a piece of paper sticks in the mind. There have been so many crime procedurals on TV the last couple of decades that have touched on this, it’s a wonder that anyone alive in this country would not understand that a parent has the final authority unless there is a spouse or some other legal document to state otherwise. If Mitchell doesn’t have any rights to make decisions for Daniel, that would seem to mean he doesn’t have any rights to Daniel’s house – which is where he lives – and yet though the play makes sure we are aware of that detail from the start, no questions arise about this. In other words, we are emotionally dragged into a ‘real-life’ drama that fails to explore all of the real-life questions. It’s easy to get caught up but its even easier to get distracted by these details. Daniel’s sudden illness signals a greater loss of a relationship and a future life together than the play seems willing to focus on, once the fight with Lydia takes shape.
Lydia wins the battle and we watch her come to take Daniel away, leaving Mitchell alone in the house that Daniel built. We get to revisit their first date in that house together when Daniel told Mitchell that they were going to spend the rest of their lives together. But then Daniel fades when he leaves to run a bath for the both of them and the lights center on Mitchell – a drink in hand, quietly processing his new reality. All of the performances are terrific but that final beat from Tim Cummings is electric and full of layered meaning. We wish the play was as intricate.
The creative team includes set and props designer DeAnne Millais, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, sound designer Peter Bayne, and costume designer Michael Mullen. The production stage manager is Jessica Morataya, Stephen Sachs, Deborah Culver, and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Daniel’s Husband runs July 28, with performances on Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Patrons are invited to relax before and after the show at the Fountain’s indoor/outdoor café. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.