Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fountain’s “Daniel’s Husband”: A Sobering Journey Into Reality.


Driving to L.A. from San Diego on a Sunday morning to see a 2 O’clock matinee at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles is not a pie in the sky decision. Getting around the freeways south of L.A. is bad enough. So it was with much consternation, and interest in the title of the show that four of us trekked north to see Michael McKeever’s southern California premiere of  “Daniel’s Husband”.

Thinking under my breath that this better be worth it, I packed my snacks and water and headed out with my theatre pals to parts unknown except to WAZE.

Daniel (Bill Brochtrup) is an accomplished architect and Mitchell (Tim Cummings) a many times over pulp fiction writer, have been lovers for the past seven years.
Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings
They live handsomly in Daniel’s renovated, perfectly appointed, modern and comfortable home (design and props DeAnne Millais). Hanging on a wall we cannot see, is a piece of art Daniel’s late artist father painted.

It’s a conversation piece, an ice -breaker and a look into Daniel’s history of living at home. It serves as the symbol of dysfunction and anger in Daniel’s world, especially if you believe his mother’s accounting of the art. Mitchell likes it, as do most when they notice it.

This evening forty something Barry (Ed F. Martin) Mitchell’s literary agent and best friend, and twenty something date Trip (Jose Fernando), a health care provider, are their dinner party guests. (Barry: “He’s very wise for his age. He knew Israel and Palestine.”)  They are in the middle of playing the game ‘Jelly Beans or Gummy Bears’. Neither Trip nor I got the concept but it broke up any conversations having to do with politics.

The banter is easy. The guys are beautiful and there is no doubt about the newness of Trip and Barry’s relationship or the deep feelings of familiarity and tenderness between Daniel and Mitchell. The one fly in the ointment comes when Trip asks how long the two have been married. Badda Boom!

Ed F. Martin, Jenny O'Hara and Tim Cummings (in background) 
Following on the heels of their entertaining dinner party, Daniel’s mother Lydia (Jenny O’Hara) pays an expected next days visit where the talk is fast and furious; funny and cutting and all looks right with the world except the boys can’t wait for her to leave.

In scenes during her visit, the conversation is tit for tat back and fourth, hit and run dialogue a la Neil Simon. It has all the makings of a healthy and hearty but biting comedy. It is a love fest, but strained, to say the least. All seems well when Lydia left with the promise of coming back again for another visit. We would have no idea what that would look like.

Later on we will remember the levity of it after it takes on a dramatic about face (a little more than halfway half way through the play), and becomes as some have noted, a modern- day Greek tragedy. (No spoilers)

Both men come from highly dysfunctional homes growing up. One still believes in the institution of marriage; the other is diametrically opposed. Mitchell doesn’t see the need nor does he believe in the idea that gay men need to follow the tradition of heterosexual mores. Daniel is more conventional and wants all the accouterments. They have this conversation on more than one occasion throughout the 90 or so minute no intermission show.

Mitchell: “The entire concept of marriage, I find outdated, musty and fundamentally wrong. An antiquated contract based more on financial and communal gain than the result of any true emotional connection.”

Playwright McKeever, according to program notes starting writing about the topic of gay marriage before it was legalized in his own state of Florida. After it became legal he considered his newly found freedom (he was of the opinion that marriage wasn’t necessary) and started re-writing his play.  He finished the draft in two weeks with plot and point changes. According to McKeever “what started out as a ‘small story’ became bigger and more universal.”

Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jose Fernando and Ed F. Martin

In a heated conversation, and this is where Bill Brochtrup’s performance kicks into high gear stunning us all and turning the tables one hundred and eighty degrees with his overly emotional plea to Mitchell as to why he wants to get married, turns tragic.  Suddenly, out of the blue, this light hearted and ‘gay’ (think happy) play turns deadly serious sending lightning rods throughout the audience.

Tim Cummings in turn seems stunned at first but listening, slowly realizes that this is the real deal from Daniel, and we can see the gears shifting. And just in a heartbeat when the screw tightens, Cummings gives us a performance of a lifetime when confronted with Lydia and no recourse to turn the tides of his fate, stands alone with words that will come back to haunt him.

Both men repeatedly bare themselves to the other and that starts the conversation in everyone’s head: don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Point well taken. 

Director Simon Levy and his top- notch ensemble bring out the good, the bad and the ugly of each of the five characters. Jenny O’Hara’s Lydia is sharp, fast on the uptake and feels a bit sorry for herself. No doubt she’s lonesome even with her busy schedule of this and that with her girlfriends. She has a big home, but she’s an empty nester. Now she flashes pictures of her dogs.

She looks smashing and younger than her sixty odd years in designer Michael Mullen’s casual and modern outfits with Jennifer Edwards’ lighting design bringing out the best of the look. She treasures being the center of attention and is quick to step in on any conversation. We will feel her motherly fierceness and possessiveness later on.

Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup and Jenny O'Hara
Both Martin and the very young and handsome Fernando, whom we will learn is much more mature than given credit, fill in some of the blanks as both best friend/ publisher and caregiver. Capturing the mood of the play, Peter Bayne’s sound design and with Edward’s lighting is clearly illustrated especially when Daniel speaks directly to the audience breaking the forth wall.

There is no doubt that the entire cast is completely and emotionally invested in this production. True emotions that run this deep can’t be phoned in. While I can’t speak to my fellow playgoers, yours truly left a little teary eyed knowing what heartbreak lies ahead for all involved.

And the answer to your question: Yes it was well worth the drive.

Two thumbs up.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 23rd
Organization: Fountain Theatre
Phone: 323-663-1525
Production Type: Tragicomic
Where: 5060 Fountain Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90029
Ticket Prices: Start at $40.00 at
Web: fountaintheatre.com
Photo: Ed Krieger

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