I have a confession to make: I’ve always been a skeptic of the fight for marriage equality. As Massachusetts became the first to adopt gay marriage more than a decade ago, I asked myself why we would want to embrace a broken heterosexual institution.
Even as marriage equality made a steady advance across the country and is now being contemplated before the U.S. Supreme Court, I still did not see the need to march down to the courthouse or—gasp!—down the church aisle when a few carefully worded documents could take care of any legal worries a marriage license might convey for me and my partner of 10 years.
That all changed on Saturday night at the world premiere of gay playwright Michael McKeever’s haunting new play, “Daniel’s Husband,” by Island City Stage, the region’s LGBT-centric theater company.
Daniel Bixby (Alex Alvarez) and Mitchell Howard (Antonio Amadeo) are a devoted couple, together for seven years. Like many gay couples, they enjoy dinner parties and romantic evenings alone. They are devoted to each other and deeply in love. Like most married couples, they also bicker—about marriage.
Their problem is their diametrically opposed views toward the institution. Daniel, an award-winning architect and idealist, dreams of placing a ring on Mitchell’s finger, “because I can.” He yearns for “the paper, the certificate, the rings, the honeymoon, the party.”
Mitchell detests the institution, replying, “When did it become so important to the gay community to be like everyone else?” and labeling marriage advocates “insipid queens desperate to assimilate.” They didn’t “have” to marry because they had all the legal paperwork covered, at least that is what Mitchell thought.
During one of their arguments, Daniel suffers a stroke that leaves him with “locked in” syndrome, a condition in which he is completely aware and cognitive but unable to communicate with others through even the slightest twitch or blink of the eye.
When Daniel’s mother, Lydia (Laura Turnbull), decides she should be the one to care for her son and sues for custody, Mitchell realizes those documents can’t substitute for an actual marriage license, let alone a ring.
McKeever’s plot was jarring and certainly had to hit home with more than a few of the predominately gay men and lesbians in the audience at Empire Stage. In an instant, he plunged his characters’ lives into unresolved turmoil and, under the expert direction of Andy Rogow, offered a powerful play that will certainly be a contender for next year’s Carbonell Award for best new work.
Both Alvarez and Amadeo offer nuanced performances while Turnbull had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end as a self-absorbed mother whose motives were questionable at best.
Rounding out the cast were Larry Buzzeo as Mitchell’s attorney Barry, a 40-something with a penchant for vapid twinks, and Kristian Bikic as Trip, a not-so-vapid twink who winds up caring for Daniel until Lydia intervenes.
Island City Stage has been on a roll this season, with outstanding productions of Steve Yockey’s surreal “Octopus,” Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy “The Little Dog Laughed” and now, McKeever’s drama “Daniel’s Husband.” This show is certainly the company’s best since its profound production of Dan Clancy’s Holocaust drama, “The Timekeepers,” that swept the 2014 Carbonell Awards.
This is a play that all gay couples—married or not—need to see. In the meantime, I’m going to sit down with my partner and discuss an important question.
Island City Stage presents Michael McKeever’s “Daniel’s Husband,” Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. through June 28 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at IslandCityStage.org.