Couple's counsel

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday February 1, 2017
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Daniel (Michael Monagle, left) and Mitchell (Daniel<br>Redmond) have mixed feelings about a visit from Daniel's mother<br>(Christine Macomber) in <i>Daniel's Husband</i><br> at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Photo: Lois Teme
Daniel (Michael Monagle, left) and Mitchell (Daniel
Redmond) have mixed feelings about a visit from Daniel's mother
(Christine Macomber) in Daniel's Husband
at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Photo: Lois Teme

When Michael McKeever wrote Daniel's Husband, and New Conservatory Theatre Center then scheduled it as part of its current season, gay marriage was a done deal. A given. The law of the land. As in, they can't take that away from me. If certain recent events have up-ended notions of inviolability in so many areas of civic life, it's understandable if the issues facing the play's characters take on rumblings of urgency. But the play is not about marriage equality, or preserving it, but rather what to do with it now that it's in hand.

That's the only grey cloud hovering over Daniel and Mitchell, a love-at-first-sight couple with successful creative careers and who live in the kind of home that gets written up in design magazines. The amiable dinner party of the opening scene, filled with funny zingers, descends into a full-throttle debate when a guest asks why the hosts haven't gotten married.

Together for seven years, Daniel yearns to be married while Mitchell has no interest in being one of those "insipid queens desperate to assimilate."

Conflict is largely light until the arrival of a tried-and-true device: the visit by a mother. In this case, it's Daniel's mother, the very model of modern liberal principles, whose passive-aggression tests the limits of Daniel's otherwise affable nature. But life carries on until it doesn't. When Daniel suffers a major health crisis, his mother wants to take control. Legally, she has the upper hand since Daniel and Mitchell are not married, but it's something of a false issue since Daniel and Mitchell have health directives that they just hadn't gotten around to signing.

But within those visible mechanics, McKeever still generates bracing emotional heat among the characters, in addition to a sharp sense of humor on view mainly in the first act. Director Allen Sawyer's production and his cast capture an intensity and honesty within the characters and their situations that maintain a grip on the audience. One disappointment: Robert "Bo" Golden's dowdy set suggests nothing of what the characters carry on about.

But there is no faulting the performances that inhabit the space. Michael Monagle is both accessible and commanding as Daniel, a successful architect, who delivers a devastating monologue to the audience about what it's like living in his suddenly ailing body. Daniel Redmond as Mitchell, a gay novelist, brings playful affability to the character, something that turns into believably steely resolve when the crisis arrives.

As Daniel's mother, Christine Macomber deftly plays the character's comically aggravating side before becoming Mitchell's fierce foe in a way that prevents her from becoming just a stock villain. Nicely rounding out the cast are Nathan Tylutki as Mitchell's stalwart friend and literary agent, and John Steele Jr. as his more-than-a-twink twinkly boyfriend.

To marry or not to marry is a question faced both by heterosexual and same-sex couples, but the newness of it in the gay community can be both seductive and scary. Daniel's Husband gives both sides equal time up to a point. The scales definitely tip in one direction by the end, but it's too late for this one couple.

 

Daniel's Husband will run at New Conservatory Theatre Center through Feb. 26. Tickets are $25-$50. Call (415) 861-8972 or go to nctcsf.org.