There was a not-too-distant past in which a play with the name “Daniel’s Husband” might have seemed provocative. Today, thanks to the reality of marriage equality, it barely raises an eyebrow.
Without knowing anything about it, it sounds comparatively tame. It might be a cute romantic comedy, perhaps, or possibly a more mature marital drama.
Lead actors Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings say “Daniel’s Husband,” which opens for its West Coast premiere at the Fountain Theatre on May 4, is more complicated than that. The show continues through June 23 (tickets at fountaintheatre.com).
Michael McKeever’s play, which debuted in New York in 2017, is about two men who have been together for seven years. Daniel (Brochtrup) is a successful architect, Mitchell (Cummings) is a successful novelist; loving and committed, they seem the perfect poster couple for gay relationships until one night, at a dinner party with friends, Mitchell declares his opposition to gay marriage.
“They find themselves in … some tricky situations … that would be able to resolve themselves if they had been married,” Cummings says.
Avoiding spoilers prevents a detailed discussion of their characters, but both actors say it’s a journey.
“I think of it more as the story of a relationship,” Brochtrup says. “One of them believes in marriage, the other one doesn’t, and then there are consequences for the philosophical choices that are made. It’s certainly about these bigger choices that we make and the consequences that come from them … and yet at the same time it’s a story about how love, at the end of the day, transcends all those things.”
Cummings agrees the play is ultimately about love, but says the importance of the debate at its center, which springs from a position his character has taken, reflects many gay men of an older generation who see marriage as heteronormative.
“It’s a bit of an identity thing,” he says. “A lot of people in the community don’t want to assimilate into heteronormative culture, they think, ‘Why are we fighting so hard to be a part of this institution that has done nothing but oppress us for centuries?’ I wonder if the play is a cautionary tale for people like that, about what happens when we don’t have marriage.”
Brochtrup touches on a less obvious issue being addressed by “Daniel’s Husband” when he discusses the opportunity the play has afforded him and Cummings — who are both out and in committed relationships with partners of 13 and 28 years, respectively — to play gay characters of so much richness and complexity.
“I think as actors,” he says, “we want to find roles where we feel like we have a point of view, something to say about the topic. Not every gay character suits me, just like not every straight character suits every straight actor, but there are certain roles that, when I read them, I think, ‘Oh I know about this, I have something to say about this.’ Those are the roles I am interested in doing.”
He muses about how things have changed over the years. He came out during a stint working on the TV show “NYPD Blue” in the ‘90s.
“I think there was a feeling then that coming out would ruin your career, and there’d be no parts to play,” he says. “Maybe that’s less so now, or maybe it still exists, but I have never regretted that choice, ever, it was really the best thing I could have done for myself. And I’ve played many gay roles, mostly gay roles in my career. I’ve been happy also about the way the world has continued to move in this direction since that time, it’s very encouraging and it just shows that coming out is the right thing to do.”
Brochtrup and Cummings were first paired at the Fountain Theatre for a much-lauded revival of “The Normal Heart,” directed by Simon Levy in 2013, and when rights were secured to produce “Daniel’s Husband,” the first thought was to reunite the two men with their director as the perfect dream team to bring it to life. The actors were thrilled. Cummings says it was “really cool” of the theater to think of them and Brochtrup is just happy to be paired with such “a fantastic partner.”
“The Fountain is really instrumental in L.A. theater with their mission of social justice,” Cummings says. “They are so good at representing all the different communities in the city. From play to play to play, they are always advocating for civil rights. That’s the point of a play like this, and as an actor, when you feel like you’re doing a service, it makes it easier to work on because you really want to. It matters.”
Brochtrup sees “Daniel’s Husband” as the next entry in a canon of gay plays that includes “The Boys in the Band” and “The Normal Heart,” joining with these now iconic plays to mark, as he puts it, a “trajectory from self-hatred in a pre-Stonewall time, to awakening activism during the AIDS crisis, and now to a story about gay marriage.”
“Who would have thought that we would even be here, at this point,” he says. “And when you look at the trajectory of gay history and that we are here and we are doing a play about gay marriage, it says a lot about where we’ve come from and where we are going. I’m happy to have a role in doing this play for that reason.”