Dezart Performs takes marriage to task with laughter and tears in Daniel’s Husband.
There are plenty of couples that eschew the institution of marriage. Ricky Gervais and Jane Fallon have been together for 37 years, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell for 35, Robin Roberts and Amber Laign have 14, and none have ever walked down the aisle together and said “I do”.
That one has the ability to marry doesn’t mean one has an obligation, which is the conflict at the center of Michael McKeever’s 90-minute play, Daniel’s Husband at Dezart Performs.
We open in the living room of architect Daniel (Michael Shaw) and his seven-year partner Mitchell (David Youse) just as a spirited political discussion is winding down at a dinner party Daniel and Mitchell are hosting for their good friend, quick-witted Barry (Chuck Yates) and Barry’s latest boy toy, Trip (Hanz Enyeart). To break the tension, Daniel launches into a game of This Or That (Star Trek or Star Wars, etc…) before Trip…well, trips up.
His first mistake comes in This or That when he asks “Israel or Palestine?” which would have been his worst blunder had he not followed it up by asking why Mitchell and Daniel aren’t married. Clearly a button-pusher of a topic, Mitchell – a romance novelist – pontificates against it, while Daniel does his best not to engage in what is clearly a tired argument. The evening ends with laughter and kisses, which is good because Daniel is dreading a visit from his mother, Lydia (Deborah Harmon).
Lydia is an all smiles, go-getting divorcee with nothing to go get these days. She’s terribly bored with her life, and loves to mix it up with Mitchell and Daniel, and by the time she enters the house she’s already invited the lesbians next door to dinner. She wants Daniel to make that chicken thing with the sauce because everyone knows lesbians love chicken. Daniel is uncomfortable around his mother, she always manages to say or do the wrong thing, but Mitchell seems fond of the old bird.
And that is where the hilarity stops, and the play takes a very dramatic and heartbreaking turn. It would be a spoiler to reveal the event, but it’s about as awful as it gets. That these five actors are able to switch seamlessly from comedy to drama in a heartbeat is spellbinding to watch.
Deborah Harmon as Lydia knows how to get all the laughs, but she keeps her real.
While Shaw can usually be found in the director’s seat, his acting chops have not taken the slightest hit. His polished, and quietly romantic turn as Daniel has just the right blend of gravitas, and humor.
As Daniel’s mother, Harmon’s controlling Lydia can’t let go of things; for instance, her enmity for Daniel’s father is still blazing even though he’s dead. She overcompensates her dreary life with effusiveness, and you can see how, after awhile, she might become irksome. While Harmon knows how to get all the laughs, she keeps Lydia real.
A master of comic timing, Yates keeps the party going with his delivery of Barry’s witty repartee. Even when his friends tease him about his historic lust for love in all the wrong places, Yates’ Barry takes it all in stride. He’s so at ease in this character that you wish he was real and was at one of your own get togethers.
Enyeart portrays the eye-rollingly young and clueless Trip with panache. We come to respect Trip when he scratches the surface to reveal all that lies beneath. It’s a terrific performance by Enyeart.
Rounding out the spectacular cast in Daniel’s Husband is Youse as Mitchell. If you’ve never seen him perform, you’ve been missing out. Youse always manages to enchant the audience with his well-rounded characters, and his Mitchell is no exception. From the delivery of McKeever’s well-written words, to his delightful mannerisms, Youse is a joy to watch even when he’s breaking your heart. It’s a performance I will remember for a very long time.
As to the technicals, Clark Dugger’s sound design works well for the play (his pre-show music was lovely), as does Thomas L. Valach’s gorgeous set design. Michael Mullen suits the actors well with his costume design, and a special shout-out goes to Derrick McDaniel’s spot-on lighting design, which sets the mood just right for both the comedy and drama. The final light cue along with Youse’s final moment is perfection.
Bring a hanky.
The remaining dates for Daniel’s Husband are this weekend, Jan. 17-18, 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Jan. 19. Limited seats available. Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. Call 760-322-0179 for tickets.