For fans of LGBTQ-themed theatre, Pride month is rich with opportunities, with at least two excellent productions onstage in Los Angeles that deserve your attention, your time, and your box office dollars.
At the Fountain Theatre (5060 Fountain Avenue) is the acclaimed “Daniel’s Husband” by Michael McKeever, which has extended its run through July 28, an intimate, five-character play centered on a same-sex couple, Daniel and Mitchell, who seem to be living the dream. Successful, affluent, and deeply in love, they might be the perfect poster couple for gay marriage – except that Mitchell doesn’t believe in it. In his own words, he would “fight to the death” for the right of others to get married, but for himself, it represents an assimilation into “normal” society that goes against everything his radical queer activist heart believes in.
When this sore spot between the couple emerges during a social gathering in their home early in the play, it seems little more than an amusing hypothetical argument. After all, the two have the necessary protections in place to prove the validity of their partnership; the only outside family member involved, Daniel’s mother, is an ally who loves Mitchell as much as if he were her own son, too. But when an unexpected crisis hits without warning, they may be powerless to prevent the life they have built together from being ripped away from them.
In a post-Marriage Equality world, McKeever’s play might, on the surface, seem a few years out of date. That’s a deceptive viewpoint to take. “Daniel’s Husband” isn’t asking us whether LGBTQ people deserve to get married; through its sparkling dialogue, layered and loving characterizations, and even-handed treatment of the issues, it’s asking us whether they should get married just because they can.
Thanks in large part to the beautiful performances of Bill Brochtrup (Daniel) and Tim Cummings (Mitchell), it answers that question by cutting through the rhetoric and focusing on the love that makes two people want to commit to each other for life. It extends its perspective through the inclusion of Daniel’s mother (the deeply affecting Jenny O’Hara), who walks an increasingly narrow emotional tightrope as the play progresses, as well as through Mitchell’s wisecracking longtime agent (the superb Ed Martin) and a young friend who brings millennial freshness to the conversation (the endearing Jose Fernando). The talented players receive sure-handed guidance from director Simon Levy, who never allows the characters to be anything less than human.
“Daniel’s Husband” goes from being light-hearted to heart-breaking over the course of its two acts, reminding us along the way of the practical benefits of marriage and offering a grim warning against the hubris of making a choice based on philosophical principal when the real-world stakes are so high. This Los Angeles premiere production drives home its points without equivocation, but what makes it must-see theatre is that it does so without losing sight of the love story at its core.
“Shooting Star: A Revealing New Musical,” is a love story, too, but it comes at the subject from a very different angle. Onstage at the Hudson Theatre (6539 Santa Monica Blvd) through June 30, this world premiere piece was written by Florian Klein, who works in gay adult films under the name Hans Berlin and wanted to tell a story reflecting his own experiences in the porn world.
When a wholesome midwestern gay kid named Taylor comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom, it isn’t long before he realizes what a tough road he’s chosen for himself; in need of extra money, he accepts a job stripping at a gay club frequented by porn stars, and before long he’s on his way to a different kind of stardom than he had foreseen. To his surprise, he finds himself surrounded by a loving porn family and falling for one of his co-stars; but a multi-billion-dollar industry is a tricky place for love to find a way – and the more successful he becomes, the further it seems out of reach.
All of this is told, of course, with the help of a rock-infused song score, composed by Thomas Zaufke with lyrics by Erik Ransom, that takes the ideas covered in Klein’s libretto – the de-stigmatization of porn and the people who work in it, the pursuit of emotional happiness alongside professional success, the difficulty of being a romantic in a world saturated with easy sex – and brings them to life with the help of an exuberant cast of performers. Taubert Nadalini and Nathan Mohebbi are more than charming as the show’s star-crossed lovers, but the stand-out performances come, unsurprisingly, from the trio of actors playing the show’s more colorful characters – Bettis Richardson, Karole Foreman, and Michael Scott Harris (as a bad-boy porn star, a “porn mama” director, and an aging gay porn legend clinging to his past glory, respectively) each have show-stopping musical numbers that stick with you long after the curtain call. Director Michael Bello takes all that talent and ties it into a package that, combined with Jim Cooney’s flashy choreography and the sound of a tight ensemble of musicians that accompanies the show from upstage makes the evening feel as much like a party as a theatrical presentation.
As for the show’s content, it’s hard not to be engaged. There’s a ring of authenticity to a behind-the-scenes look at gay porn served up by an actual porn star that makes it all feel that much more delicious; and there’s a refreshing sweetness about it that somehow seems even more appealing against the hedonistic backdrop of the adult entertainment business.
It’s this contrast between old-fashioned romance and unapologetic sexuality, however, that undercuts Klein’s intended message that porn stars are people, just like you and me; and even though his musical fantasia acknowledges that there’s a dark side to the industry – drugs, greed, exploitation, ageism, sexism, and all the other evils associated with it – it also insists that working there can be a rich and rewarding life if you can keep your priorities straight. The trouble is, even though it celebrates the porn life with all the sex-positivity it can muster, Klein’s script has a conflicted soul that still feels unresolved with the show’s eventual “happily-ever-after” finale. “Shooting Star” wants to tell us that it’s possible to have it both ways, but it isn’t quite able to show us how.
That’s okay, though. Even if it doesn’t quite convince us of its main argument, Klein’s musical is a terrific time, and with an attractive cast of diverse performers – sometimes fully naked ones, at that – it’s doubtful that most audiences will quibble over the fine points. Besides, it’s a new show, in its first run of performances; there’s plenty of room for the improvements which will doubtless be made as “Shooting Star” makes what seems an inevitable journey to further, bigger, and glitzier productions in the future. It’s hard to imagine any of those will seem as audacious or as cocky as this one, though – essential qualities for a “gay porn musical,” surely – and besides, you’ll be able to say you saw it here first.