Tag Archives: playwright

France-Luce Benson’s Showtime Blues explores Black love built by shared trauma and triumphs

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Playwright France-Luce Benson

This Saturday, June 27, at 5:00 pm The Fountain Theatre is proud to present a reading of France-Luce Benson’s one-act play Showtime Blues, originally presented at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York in 2017. Showtime Blues will be presented online as The Fountain’s final Saturday Matinee program for June and will feature Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. Saturday Matinees will take a break in July, returning with France-Luce in August.

France-Luce produces and hosts Saturday Matinees and has generously presented several readings of her own work for our patrons enjoyment, including our May 20th reading of  Detained,  her powerful piece commissioned by the ACLU that featured the Tony-nominated actress, Kathleen Chalfant.

We wanted to take the opportunity to discuss Showtime Blues with France-Luce as it is a powerful piece of theatre in perfect pitch with the current moment and is part of a body of work in which France-Luce explores her identity as a Black American of Haitian descent, and examines broad socio-political concepts from the perspective of intimate human relationships.

Q: When did you write Showtime Blues? Did it arise out of one particular experience or in response to a lifetime of experiences?

FLB: I wrote it in 2016. That year, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were killed by police. Prior to that…Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown…the list goes on and on. I was hurting, and angry, and terrified for my community. I have three brothers, a nephew, dozens of cousins — I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever view them as a threat. Like all the black men in my life – they are loving, gentle, hard working, family men – they care about their communities, they are human and deserve so much better than what this country gives them. We all do. All of this was stirring in my head and heart. I didn’t know what the play would end up being, but I knew I needed to explore it, work through it, and I wanted to celebrate Black love in a way that transcended romance. I wanted to celebrate the love we as Black people have for one another, based on our shared trauma and triumphs.

Q: I’m curious about the secondary theme in the play which explores the way folks judge one another on appearances and stereotypes.

FLB: As a first generation American, I’m interested in the way we (black and brown people) “Other” each other; and I always believe that as individuals we need to hold ourselves accountable. Both Ameira and Demetrius are quick to judge, and maybe they’re justified. She’s getting hit on by some dude on the train, and he’s being dismissed by someone who can’t even be bothered to look at him – literally. They have both been conditioned by a sexist, racist society. The incident that they experience together exposes their vulnerability. That vulnerability is what interests me most. It is that vulnerability that many of us, black and white, often fail to see in each other. And certainly law enforcement officers – they see black and brown bodies void of vulnerability – void of humanity.

Q: It seems that this moment provides a unique window for artists of color to be heard and seen.  What would you like your white friends and colleagues to understand about your experience as a black female artist in America?

FLB: I’d like them to truly understand how far reaching, how expansive, how insidious white supremacy is. My voice and stories matter as much as anyone else. The lack of opportunity artists of color experience is a result of  systemic institutionalized racism. White people need to understand this country’s history, and then maybe they’ll begin to understand my experience. I’ve been writing a trilogy about the Haitian Revolution, and I’ve often been told that my cultural experience is not relevant to Americans. But I challenge anyone reading this to study the Haitian Revolution and tell me it’s not part of America’s history. The problem is, Americans have been in denial about a lot of her history; I would like my white friends and colleagues to investigate the ways they have been in denial.

Q: As a Black American. What makes you hopeful?

FLB: This new generation of activists makes me hopeful; the current uprising, the fact that white people seem more willing to listen and take real action.

The Cast

Cecil Blutcher: Regional Theater: Pipeline (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville); Petrol Station (The Kennedy Center). NYC: The Hot Wing King (Signature Theatre); Tempo (Ensemble Studio Theatre); Showtime Blues (Ensemble Studio Theatre). Film: Premature (Dir. Rashad Ernesto Green); Skin (Dir. Guy Nattiv); Sketch (Dir. Mariama Diallo). Television: The Good Fight (CBS All-Access); Random Acts of Flyness (HBO). Training: M.F.A. (Penn State). Website: CecilBlutcherCreates.com

Suzette Azariah Gunn is an actress, writer, director from New York. She has a degree in acting from Howard University and Oxford University. She has recurred, starred and guest starred on television and been in film and Theater across the US. Most recently 21 Bridges film and Nya in Pipeline at Cleveland Playhouse. Honors- Los Angeles Film Award Best Ensemble, Golden Door International Film Festival Nominated Best Lead Actress, NBC Diversity Showcase,  Named Up and Coming Actress to watch, Best Supporting Actress Planet Connections,.- For more info suzettegunn.com

Matt Kirkwood has been an actor and director in Los Angeles theatre for the last 30+ years. He was last seen in The Fountain’s production of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, and in the live stream reading of DETAINED.

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Tony nominee Kathleen Chalfant heads cast for live-stream reading of immigration play DETAINED

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Kathleen Chalfant

Acclaimed actress Kathleen Chalfant will lead the cast for the Fountain Theatre’s live-stream reading of France-Luce Benson‘s docudrama on immigration, Detained, on Wednesday, May 20th. The Tony nominated and Obie winning actress’ distinguished stage career,  both on Broadway and Off-Broadway,  includes Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit.

Actors joining Chalfant are Victor Anthony, France-Luce Benson, Rolando Chusan, Liza Fernandez, Aleisha Force, Dion Graham, Matt Kirkwood, Sofia Riba, Ariel Sandino, Felix A. Solis,  Aldo Uribe, Karl O’Brien Williams.

Based on interviews with individuals who are facing deportation, as well as the judges, lawyers, and activists who are involved in these cases, Detained is a new documentary theater piece about immigration, deportation, and detention in the United States.

“France-Luce has incorporated the voices of all the stakeholders from immigrants to ICE officers and everyone in between, ” says Chalfant, who has been involved in the new play’s development. “The play provides a very important human perspective so that we see that the current system is neither necessary nor inevitable and is certainly not the way it has always been done.”

“The coronavirus crisis makes this already appalling system even crueler and now even murderous,’ she adds.

The live-stream reading of Detained on Wednesday, May 20, will air live at 5pm PST/8pm EST on the Fountain Theatre’s Facebook page, YouTube Channel and on Zoom.

France-Luce Benson joins Fountain Theatre staff as Community Engagement Coordinator

France-Luce Benson

France-Luce Benson

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that playwright/teaching artist France-Luce Benson has joined the staff as Community Engagement Coordinator. Her duties will include overseeing the Fountain’s educational outreach programs and expanding the theatre’s interaction with audiences and local communities.

“As an artist committed to equanimity in representation and creating art that affects change, it is an honor to be a part of The Fountain Theatre, a company that is truly walking the walk, ” says Benson. “The many theatrical giants who The Fountain has produced over the years have not only influenced my work as a playwright, but they are representative of Los Angeles’ diverse cultural landscape. I am confident that my own cultural background will contribute to the important work The Fountain is doing to promote and inspire social justice.”

France-Luce Benson was named “Someone to Watch ” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine. As a playwright, she is a recipient of a Miranda Foundation grant (DETAINED), Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Play Commission (DEVIL’S SALT), and a Princess Grace Award runner up (BOAT PEOPLE).   Additional honors include: Zoetrope Grand Prize (CAROLINE’S WEDDING); Dramatists Guild Fellow 2016-17, Sam French OOB Festival Winner, NNPN Award for Best Play, and  three time Kilroy List Honorable Mention.  Residencies include  Djerassi, the Camargo Foundation in France, and Instituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil. Her plays have had productions, workshops, and readings at Crossroads Theatre New Jersey, City Theatre of Miami, The Playwrights Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, City Theatre of Miami, Loyola Marymount University, Global Black Voices in London, and in New York The Lark, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre where she is a company member. She’s been published by Samuel French and Routledge Press. She earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA in Theatre from Florida International University. Teaching appointments include UCLA Extension, St. Johns University, Columbia University, Girl Be Heard, and P.S. Arts/Inside Out in L.A. She is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild, Inc.

France-Luce teaches Story Analysis for Film and Television at UCLA Extension School. As a Dramatist Guild Fund teaching artist, she launched the Traveling Masters Program for NY Public Schools and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University, where she facilitated a playwriting intensive designed for the International Student Fellows of Columbia’s esteemed Human Rights Advocacy Program.

“We’re excited to welcome France-Luce to our Fountain Family,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “She brings expertise, passion and insight to our community programming as the Fountain broadens its services into the future.”

World premiere ‘Human Interest Story’ explores homelessness and truth in journalism

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Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs (Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.

Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts and The Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander —  Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.

The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia (My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force (Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).

The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, and the assistant stage manager is Nura FerdowsiSimon LevyJames Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo VolkLaurel and Robert SiltonLois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.

The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic film Meet John Doe.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.

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VIDEO: How did playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis get idea for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’?

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‘Hannah’ playwright Jiehae Park and director Jennifer Chang making magic together

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Jiehae Park

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

Carolina Xique: First, let me say that I’m thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles.

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? Is it personal to your own experience or indicative of the holistic Korean American experience? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play. I was primarily a performer at the time (Jen and I both went to UCSD for acting). There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

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Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

What kind of research did both of you dive into when writing Hannah?

JP: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JP: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking and sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea.  I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.  Having worked on Vietgone by Qui Nguyen has really helped.  These plays are vastly different but they both have scenes that shift at a cinematic pace in widely varying tones that need to be woven together in the same play.

East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

JP: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago…in the time since I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee (the Shapeshifter) that Howard Ho (Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

JC: It’s an honor to be able to helm a project with the support of two highly respected institutions in Los Angeles.  I think it’s really smart theatre making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Garlic in their pockets.

Carolina Xique, is a theatre artist and arts nonprofit administrator. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwright Initiative

‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’ a finalist for American Theatre Critics Association Prize

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Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park, opening at the Fountain Theatre on August 17th in its Southern California Premiere, has been named a finalist for the Francesca Primus Prize, sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation.  The award, presented annually since 1997, recognizes the best work by an emerging woman playwright who has not yet achieved national prominence.

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo earned glowing reviews in its recent world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

“Masterful! So powerful and indescribably beautiful.” – Stanford Daily 

“This is theater as it should be — blisteringly original, acerbically funny, powerfully dramatic and deeply thought-provoking.” – Mail Tribune

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Playwright Jiehae Park

In the funny and poignant play, Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a neurologist when she gets a strange package in the mail from her grandmother in South Korea, who may or may not have just ended her own life. A surreal adventure leads Hannah on a journey back to her homeland and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea. A startling comedy about a daughter, a mother, a grandmother and the mystery that connects them.

The Fountain Theatre partners with East West Players in the Southland premiere directed by Jennifer Chang. As the nation’s premier Asian American theatre organization, East West Players produces artistic works and educational programs that foster dialogue exploring Asian Pacific experiences.

Named in honor of Francesca Primus, a playwright, dramaturg, theater critic, and ATCA member who died of cancer in 1992, the Primus Prize was originally administered through the Denver Center Theatre Company. Since 2002, ATCA has adjudicated the award, which includes a $10,000 grant presented through the generosity of the Primus Foundation as well as a plaque for the winning author. The winner will be announced in July.

Audience picks Round 2 winner of Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series

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George Roland, Paul Burt and Anna Baumgarten read “Eldritch” at Fountain Theatre.

Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley was voted by audience members as the Round 2 winner in last week’s 5th Annual ‘Rapid Development Series for Young Writers. In Langley’s playRicki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

As the winning script, Monsters Are Made will receive a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre later this month.

Langley explains the journey of writing Monsters Are Made:

After years of telling the story of my own “bad experience” with a former friend in a hotel room as a short comic anecdote, I realized that it was anything but funny. It was terrifying, but the only way I could process that level of betrayal for a long time was by rewriting it, sanitizing it, making it into something you could talk about at a party. What I really needed to do (and what I’ve tried to do with this play) was keep rewriting it—researching and raising the stakes—until the story wasn’t about what happened to me anymore. It needed to be someone else’s. It needed to be Ricki’s and it needed to be Hunter’s. And, I hope, even though it’s no longer my story, it’s a more truthful one.”

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Playwright Hannah Langley outside the Fountain Theatre.

Hannah C. Langley is an emerging playwright, screen and television writer from Valencia, California. Her plays approach political topics on a personal scale. With a mix of magic and modern technology, Langley creates protagonists who are young, female-identifying, and on the verge of finding themselves. Her USC thesis play, Losing My Religion (in 140 Characters or Less), received a workshop production at USC, staged readings at Cypress College and the Pasadena Playhouse, and was recorded as a podcast by At the Table: A Play Reading Series, featuring Broadway’s Abby Church, Max Crumm, Aneesh Sheth, and Tony nominee Isabel Keating. The play has since earned semifinalist status in both The Road and Sanguine Theatre NYC’s summer play festivals.

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Created and produced in 2014 by James Bennett and Jessica Broutt, The Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30.

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Audiences pick the winner in Fountain Theatre’s 5th annual Rapid Development Series for young writers

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You be the judge: the audience will determine which play gets a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre in Round 2 of the company’s 5th annual competition-style reading series, set for ThursdayMay 9 at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

The contestants are Eldritch by Michael Herman, a dark fairytale set in pagan Ireland that explores human monstrosity, adolescence and, ultimately, love — vs. — Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley, in which Ricki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

The Fountain’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30. In Round 1, each of four playwrights presented a section of a new play currently in development, and the audience voted to determine which two would continue to Round 2. In Round 2, audiences will see the entire first half of each of those two plays, followed by another vote. The winning play and playwright will be announced at the end of the evening in the Fountain’s upstairs café, where complimentary refreshments will be served. The prize: two professional staged readings of the entire play on the Fountain stage at the end of May.

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‘Daniel’s Husband’ playwright Michael McKeever honored with George Abbott Award

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Michael McKeever on stage last night at the Amaturo Theater.

Playwright Michael McKeever was honored last night in South Florida with the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, awarded to an individual  who has contributed significantly to the artistic and cultural development of the region. McKeever’s play Daniel’s Husband receives its Southern California Premiere at the Fountain Theatre in May. 

McKeever has been nominated four times for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics New Play Award. He is a three-time finalist for Humana Festival’s Heideman Award, and an NEA Residency Grant recipient. McKeever and his husband, Stuart Meltzer, are co-founders of Zoetic Stage, a Miami-based theater company dedicated to developing new work and bringing different and exciting points of view to established plays. 

Daniel’s Husband is witty, passionate, and deeply moving play that takes an unflinching look at how we choose to tie the knot — or not. Daniel and Mitchell are the perfect couple. Perfect house, perfect friends — even a mother who wants them married. They’d have the perfect wedding too, except that Mitchell doesn’t believe in gay marriage. A turn of events puts their perfect life in jeopardy, and Mitchell is thrust into a future in which even his love may not be enough.  Daniel’s Husband is a bold reflection on love, commitment, and family in our perilous new world.

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