Every now and then, a play changes your posture. Something lands just so, a shift in plot, a persuasive expression, a realization that you didn’t know you hadn’t had. That moment burrows deep inside, splitting at the perpendicular, equidistant to the head and heart. It nestles there and changes your form. You’re changed.
I didn’t expect such seismic shifts from Michael McKeever’s new play, “Daniel’s Husband,” which opened to a passionate and responsive audience Friday night at Buffalo United Artists. It is not an example of great playwriting, not technically speaking. Its exposition is labored, it’s laden with cliché, has too many character, and curiously skips over scenes that feel like they would be worthwhile.
The play spans many months, but struggles to navigate its milestone while giving us the chance to pause and reflect. And while I didn’t mind an early dose of tension, especially after a light and comical opening scene, the heavy stuff does come about a bit too early and too strong, as if we walked in on a movie halfway through.
These structural imperfections are noticeable; it’s just a little wonky, even when it hits its stride. But the elements that work are impressive and important.
I won’t say too much about action or events, and you’ll thank me for it. On the surface, this is a play about the progress of gay marriage – a term growing staler by the day – and the new conversations being had about assimilation, resisting the status quo and the so-called institution of marriage. It’s also a story about two people in love: Eric Rawski is Mitchell and Michael Seitz is Daniel. Together, they show us a relationship that is as complex and interwoven as the seven years they’ve shared.
Rawski, who continues to flex new muscles in every new role, is nothing short of a revelation. We’ve seen his pathos before, his catty cynicism turning sour and sore with one look. He delivers an effortless Dorothy Zbornak, deadpan and all, when things are funny, and a drippy, pained Sally Field type in serious scenes. Rawski was especially raw on opening night, tears streaming down his face at climax, residuals still left over at company bows.
Like Rawski, Seitz has enjoyed a renaissance of roles in the last few years, each one feeding him more to chew. He and his scene partner share indelible chemistry, no doubt matured over many slapstick roles in BUA’s campy fare. Their work pays off here. Like Rawski, Seitz can deliver comedy and tragedy with undivided ease and intensity; I enjoy his respect of nuance.
Anne Hartley Pfohl, as Daniel’s mother Lydia, is a great match for her two boys. On paper, Lydia is a less interesting person than Pfohl plays her. It’s not a character to write home about, but she’s necessary to Mitchell’s experience. I wish Lydia looked more familiar to her son and his longtime boyfriend, just a bit more natural. Nevertheless, Pfohl is adept at intentionality, offering backstory and motivation in every line. She is also a wise match for Rawski’s strong will, a type hard to cast against.
Tyler Brown and Timothy Patrick Finnegan are suitable, though not additive, in smaller roles. I wonder what McKeever could do with just his three principals, focusing on the sort of love triangle that exists between Lydia and her boys. There are backstories and references that beg further exploration, and some that just linger. There’s editing to be done, to be sure. This could be a superb play, the way McKeever has carved out this complex people. But thanks to these fine performances, this is a play that still has much to lean into.
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Presented by Buffalo United Artists at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 7 at the Main Street Cabaret in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. Tickets are $25 general, $15-$23 members, students and seniors. Visit buffalobua.org or call 886-9239.