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MY FAVORITE HUSBANDS,

 the opening show of Quince Productions’ sixth annual LGBT Festival, begins like one of those self-mocking drag comedies beloved by audiences everywhere: a big, burly, hairy-but-bald guy is trying to stuff himself into a shockingly ugly violet chiffon gown.  But, nice surprise: this political rom-com by Andrew Marvel turns out to be a real play with real characters and real ideas.

The pivotal character, the guy in drag, is Mark (Thomas-Robert Irvin), and the occasion for the dress is the wedding of his former lover John (Jeff Hunsicker) to a New Jersey state assemblyman (NJ seems to press the same auto-laugh button as drag). Raul (Joel Guerrero in a standout performance) is the latest poster-boy of the Republicans—a gay Latino—and thus the wedding guest list is chock full of celebrities: Chris Christie, Donald Rumsfeld, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Left on the sidelines is Tristan (Angel J. Sigala), Mark’s young Latino lover, who is embarrassed by drag and thrilled by the history-making significance of legal gay marriages.

The emotional issues are all the obvious ones but mostly jealousy; the political issues are all the obvious ones, but mostly scandal; the psychological issues are all the obvious ones, but mostly generational. Mark and John remember the struggles and the risks of the bad old days when they were all young and brave together. But where John, dapper and relaxed, is moving forward, Mark is trapped by agonizing nostalgia and a dated, anti-bourgeois stance. 

And just when you’re thinking that the two Latino guys should get together—their asides to each other are in Spanish—you realize that cliché ethnicity is not the point at all; this is a play about the illogicalities of love. 

The production has both the charm and the drawbacks of theater festival shoestring in the costuming (John Hodges) and the set (Christopher Haddad), but under Rich Rubin’s direction, the scenes move briskly and engagingly along. Marvel’s dialogue is sometimes thin, as if he had stretched a short play into a long play, but MY FAVORITE HUSBANDS is both interesting and enjoyable, and a fine launch for GayFest.


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.