Whenever I review a show, I bring a guest for an added, personal perspective on the subject matter. For example, a friend with a severe speaking difficulty accompanied me to a show about a couple dealing with the deaf/hearing divide. For Daniel's Husband, the Fountain's new show about a gay couple dealing with health and legal issues, my guest was my friend Michael Breitner. Michael is a gay man who has lived the issues covered in the play. This review is an edited transcript of our after-theatre conversation.
Bill: We just saw
Daniel's Husband, the Fountain's new show. The show starts out as a domestic parlor comedy -- two mature, gay, unmarried couples are zinging each other with one-liners before the discussion turns to gay marriage and the plot takes a heart-breaking turn. What struck me was how normal it seemed; the couples could have been heterosexual or any combination of genders or orientations. Anyone who has ever dealt with a health crisis with a loved one will benefit from seeing this show. You can take your closed-minded uncle to see this show and he cannot help but be moved.
Michael: Given that the characters were gay and many gay people, me being one of them, had to live with and deal with some of the problems and circumstances in the play, it touched home a lot. Take the simple concept of gay marriage, which is anathema to so many people. When you get right down to it, that little piece of paper opens up a world to people that they have been trying to have open to them for a very very long time. It is difficult to be a gay person in a non-accepting society, even with the laws we have now. So yes, this could have been an unmarried heterosexual couple, but it is different because through most of history, heterosexual couples had the choice to legally marry.
Bill: When one partner is stricken with illness, the panic, despair, and legal problems that the unmarried partner has to deal with is very different because they are gay.
Michael: Yes. The way things are, if you're married, there is never any question. You go through the whole process of illness and hospitalization and emergency rooms and doctor's care with nothing stopping you from having all those rights and privileges. It's like a fish in water; there's nothing stopping you from having all of those rights and privileges. But if you are a gay couple, you have to deal with all the authorities who make you show papers to even be admitted to the patient's room because people don't believe you have that right. 'Are you a family member? We can't let you in the room because you are not related to the sick person.'
Bill: The show is very relatable and can be triggering. You related to the emotions swirling around the health crisis and I was triggered by the powerlessness you can feel when dealing with the court system.
Michael: We were privy to this couple in the good times, then, when adversity hits, and you see the difficulties they face, particularly the one who is not sick -- especially if you're never known that that is how it goes down -- you say, 'Oh, my God! This is so unfair.' It is unfair right up until the judge's gavel comes down declaring that this is the way it is. I think a good thing that will come out of this show being seen by people who have never experienced how a gay couple lives is that it will open your eyes.
Photo by Ed Krieger
Bill: Yes. At the show's center is the portrayal of a realistic long-time couple (the amazing Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings) who are committed and devoted to each other -- just not legally married. They give us a gift -- a chance to experience their loving, intimate, yet masculine, relationship. What is tragic is that after 2015 (and this play is set post-Obergefell v. Hodges), this couple could have married and avoided the legal trauma. But they didn't.
Michael: At the beginning of the play, you know that they are a couple, but you don't know the depth of their relationship. That awareness grows throughout the entire evening until you realize how deeply in love these two people were, and how their lives meant so much to each other.
Bill: The way they treated each other's families (Jenny O'Hara played a formidable "mother not-in-law") and friends was also very realistic, and not always played for laughs.
Michael: The subplot about the best friend (a conflicted Ed Martin) and his attraction to a younger man (Jose Fernando) was very interesting. What I got out of it was that he was so in awe of his friends' relationship that he was driven to find a mate.
Bill: The show is a whole package of true life, true friendship, and true despair. Even the setting (an impeccable design by DeAnne Millais)
felt true. You and I have been in apartments like that on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Michael: The actors had a remarkable script to work with. There was nothing that didn't ring true. All the dialogue seemed real and was an extraordinary match with the actors. There was a scene when the character that is stricken explains the experience of it -- what it was like to be helpless and unable to respond -- and describes his partner's desperate efforts to get help. That was very well done. And then there was a second soliloquy, which is what that was, given by the unstricken partner about what the courtroom was like. Devastating. And the ending was very very touching. When a loved one is sick, you grab onto anything you can grab onto. Miracle cures, experimental whatever.
Bill: To the well-deserved credit of the writer (Michael McKeever) and director (Simon Levy), this is a show that will leave audiences grateful for the time they spent together, despite the emotional roller coaster ride. And I am grateful for you, Michael, for joining me on that ride.
Michael: Thank you for inviting me. Good night.