Daniel’s Husband, the finest work yet from South Florida playwright Michael McKeever, brings the issues surrounding marriage equality into sharp, tender, painful relief.
Now getting its Island City Stage world premiere in Fort Lauderdale, the play is beautifully crafted, powerfully realized and emotionally devastating. Its second weekend of performances in the intimate Empire Stage space is already sold out, and the demand for tickets to the rest of the run is likely to outstrip capacity, which is a shame. Daniel’s Husband reminds us of many truths, not the least of which is this: Take charge of your life and your love while you can.
The prolific McKeever, whose comedies and dramas have been produced at a number of American and international theaters, is impressively adept at blending observant comedy and potent drama, never more so than in Daniel’s Husband.
The story of architect Daniel Bixby (Alex Alvarez) and his novelist partner Mitchell Howard (Antonio Amadeo) begins with a dinner party that underscores McKeever’s wit, as the men host Mitchell’s literary agent Barry (Larry Buzzeo) and his much younger date Trip (Kristian Bikic). The dialogue is snappy and funny, the laughs abundant.
But all too soon, life and conflict intrude, as they always do.
Daniel’s wealthy, widowed mother Lydia (Laura Turnbull) pays a visit, and her typically controlling, egocentric behavior makes her son even crazier than usual. Daniel, who desperately wants to wed (“I want the paper. I want the certificate. I want the vows and the party and the rings and the honeymoon,” he says), and Mitchell, who doesn’t think marriage is necessary for gay men and women, fight ferociously. Then tragedy strikes, and in mere minutes, everything changes.
McKeever then uses dramatic devices — a key monologue detailing the horror of a kind of living death, a flashback to the impulsively romantic start of Daniel and Mitchell’s relationship — to deepen and illuminate a conflict that drives the play to a place that leaves the audience in tears.
The playwright has created the shattering world of Daniel’s Husband, of course, but theater is a collaborative art form, and this world premiere wouldn’t be as intensely effective as it is without the work of director Andy Rogow, Island City’s designers and a superb cast. Michael McClain has created a sleek abode for Daniel and Mitchell, and there lighting designer Preston Bircher softens or sharpens the drama. Peter A. Lovello’s costumes point up the characters’ taste and resources. Sound designer David Hart’s musical selections between scenes feature pointed lyrics that subtly help drive the play from lightheartedness to loss.
In smaller roles, Buzzeo hits the mark with McKeever’s zingers, and Bikic makes Trip empathetic, sincere and impossibly young. Carbonell Award winner Turnbull finds tiny moments of vulnerability and self-doubt in Lydia, moments that keep the character from becoming a mother-monster.
At the heart of the play — or perhaps the broken heart of the play — are Alvarez and Amadeo, two of the region’s finest actors. They worked together in The Unseen at the now-closed Promethean Theatre, Amadeo playing a prisoner and Alvarez his brutal guard. In Daniel’s Husband, the two get to explore the first blush of romance, the conflicts of a rock-solid couple, the despair over an upended future that had seemed so certain.
Together and separately, they convey the passion and strong wills of partners who think they have all the time in the world to live out their dreams. And in the final seconds, Amadeo’s stricken, expressive face reflects the cumulative power of an extraordinary play.
If you go
What: World premiere of ‘Daniel’s Husband’ by Michael McKeever.
Where: Island City Stage production at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday (additional show 8 p.m. June 24, no show July 2), through July 5.
Information: 954-519-2533 or www.islandcitystage.org.