Philadelphia GayFest! 2016 Review: ‘My Favorite Husbands’ at Studio X

In 2003, Massachusetts fired a shot heard ’round the world when it became the first state to legalize gay marriage. For Mark (Thomas-Robert Irvin), the central character in Andrew Marvel’s new play, My Favorite Husbands, it was like a shot straight through the heart of his bohemian, left-leaning, gay counter-culture comfort zone.

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The play opens as Mark and Tristan (Angel Sigala), Mark’s boyfriend of two years, prepare to attend the wedding of Mark’s ex, John (Jeff Hunsicker). Mark’s unresolved baggage from his relationship with John is on the order of fourteen pieces of mismatched luggage. Added to this, John’s decision to get married is an affront to Mark’s gay liberation sensibility. That the object of John’s affection is a Republican New Jersey state assemblyman, Raul (Joel Guerrero), goes beyond mere accommodation to mainstream, heterosexual norms in Mark’s estimation — it’s worse than assimilation with the Daleks or the Borg.

Meanwhile, John and Raul are nervously fretting over last minute wedding arrangements for their high-profile, media showcase ceremony rich in, or filthy with, Republican celebrity guests, staged to demonstrateq the GOP’s “Big Tent” magnanimity. Now, a wedding, joyous occasion as it usually is when shotguns are not involved, is right up there among the top ten stressful life events under the best of circumstances.

The happy couple has no idea that Mark intends to ratchet up the tension several-fold by arriving in drag, in decidedly frowsy drag: a “vision” in purple gown, pink heels and platinum blonde wig. While allusion is made to Anna Nicole Smith, the bearish Mark is a big gal more akin to Shelley Winters in her The Poseidon Adventure role, and boats will be seriously rocked today.

What ensues is a densely-packed dramedy that, for a 90 minute show, takes on a dizzying array of interpersonal conflicts and hot-button issues: intergenerational and cross-cultural relationships, opposing political ideologies, abandonment and self-esteem, jealousy, embracing social change versus nostalgic conservatism, and whether those shoes are right for that dress.

The four cast members successfully navigate roles which require each of them to emotionally turn on a dime — repeatedly, and multiple times within a single scene. Thomas-Robert Irvin portrays Mark with a palpable sense of loss, sublimating his sadness in some very dysfunctional ways (passive-aggressiveness, patronizing anger, alcohol, etc.) and outrageous campiness (“It’s the wig talking”).

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Jeff Hunsicker plays John as a good-natured peacemaker caught between two very different, but very much controlling Alpha males. He and Joel Guerrero (Raul) share a scene both touching and amusing set in their wedding-planning war room as they obsessive over banquet seating assignments for family and dignitaries.

Angel Sigala as Tristan, the youngest character of the foursome, is ernest, emotionally open and sincere — the most likable and consistently adult person in the room. I was struck by a scene where Mark and John are deep in a contentious “discussion” about their past relationship while Tristan and Raul (Sigala and Guerrero) observe with silent absorption. The plot was advancing in the dialog of Irvin and Hunsicker, but the concentration and subtle reactions of Sigala and Guerrero were intriguing and important.

Chad Haddad’s set design — funky consignment shop furniture for Mark and Tristan’s pad and a whiteboard for the wedding planning scene — were just right to provide a sense of place. Costume design by John Hodges appropriately employed three tuxedos and one outlandishly inappropriate evening gown.

Audiences no doubt will see similarities between My Favorite Husbands and other notable plays and films with gay themes, but Marvel explores gay relationships in interesting new ways that modern social victories necessitate. Those classic plays resonate here because of, not in spite of, contemporary rights. What’s needed here is a clearer focus on a limited number of issues.

Director Rich Rubin keeps the story moving like a runaway freight train which in turn keeps the audience engaged, wondering what new direction the plot will take. My Favorite Husbands is a journey well-worth taking.

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My Favorite Husbands plays through August 27, 2016, at GayFest! 2016 performing at Studio X – 1340 South 13th Street (at Reed), in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them online. 

LINK:
An Interview With ‘My Favorite Husbands’ Playwright Andrew Marvel-Playing at GayFest! 2016 in Philadelphia by Henrik Eger.

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