Samuel Beckett’s plays can be really tricky. They are conceptually so full and simultaneously so maddeningly empty. It’s that emptiness that’s the key. What a production does with that emptiness is what separates a transcendent production of Beckett from a sleep-inducing one. Take the production of “Happy Days” starring Dianne Wiest at the Mark Taper Forum.
Why do you choose what you choose?
In “Invisible Tango” that magic and narrative is being crafted by Helder Guimarães. The magic is mostly a theme and variation on card manipulation and increasing elaborate versions of “is this your card?” In the intimate theater that’s configured to focus on a simple card table, the action is close enough to be dazzling and big enough to feel like more than a single trick.
The theatre of place: Jordan Downs
For Cornerstone’s latest piece “A Jordan Downs Illumination” the focus is really space and time (or more accurately *place* through time). That place is the public housing project in Watts - Jordan Downs. And the time is from World War II when the project was built through now when - After decades of conversation and controversy, the entire project is phase by phase being rebuilt as an urban village.
Saved by the cast
At the beginning of Michael McKeever’s play at the Fountain Theatre, we are at the end of a dinner party.
Daniel and Mitchell seem to be the perfect gay couple. Daniel’s a talented architect. Mitchell’s a successful writer. They’re a terrific match. Daniel cooks, Mitchell cleans. You know the deal. It’s that moment of a dinner party where the last bottle of wine is being opened and you’re in the living room chatting about momentous things like why Mitchell’s agent Barry dates young boys and which is better: gummy bears or jelly beans.
Barry’s boy-toy du jour, Trip, who is less than half his age, is enamored of this other gay couple. They seem so perfect. They’ve been together seven years; they have this beautiful house; they are clearly in love. Trip naturally assumes they’re married.
Turns out this is a sore spot for Daniel. Hence, the title of the play “Daniel’s Husband.”
Mitchell doesn’t believe in gay marriage. He doesn’t believe in marriage at all. Feels like it’s all some conspiracy built to devalue love and make money. Why as a gay man would he want to assimilate and be like everyone else? He’d fight for other gay men’s right to be married but is violently opposed personally.
A fight ensues. Things get tense. It’s clear this is an old issue for these two. Daniel really, really wants to be married. Mitchell can’t even consider it. The one issue they don’t raise as they argue is: what happens if one of them gets sick.
Don’t worry - the play hasn’t forgotten that argument. That’s the second half.
I won’t spoil the specific details but if I tell you the fifth character in the play is Daniel’s problematic, rich mother - you can probably sketch out the rest. What begins as a witty, clever gay comedy quickly takes a dark turn not just towards tragedy but almost soap-opera. The second half of this 90 minute play comes close to the tone of one of those old films you’d watch in high school with titles like “Scared straight.” Gay men in perfect relationships who haven’t gotten married beware: this could happen to you.
While the end of the play is a little heavy handed, the reason to go see “Daniel’s Husband” is the cast.
Headed up by Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup as that ideal gay couple - they’re as perfect in these roles as the characters seem perfect for each other. Jenny O’Hara is just right as the mom who comes for a visit and takes over everything. These fine actors manage to keep the play from descending into melodrama.
In the wrong hands, this play could have gone very, very badly. As it is, it’s skating on the edge.
But these are some of the finest actors in LA and they not only keep things together - they make it all terribly touching. And make small silent moments speak volumes. This is the kind of acting that make intimate theater special. You’re not going to see a cast this good in a space this small in other cities.
So laugh with the first half, cry or cringe with the second half - but enjoy these actors.
“Daniel’s Husband” plays at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood through June 23rd.
Enjoy the dancing dildos
Sometimes watching a play is like having a friend tell you a confusing story. You know, one of those stories where, a few minutes in, you begin to wonder exactly what the story is about and why, exactly, are they sharing it with you. That’s how I felt watching Ammunition Theatre Company’s world premiere of “Brain Problems” by Malcolm Barrett.