Acclaimed photographer Jeffrey McCabe and so-so novelist Terry Parker were inseparable companions for 30 years – and married for six of them. They were so close they were like one word, and fully expected to grow old together. But Jeff died seven months ago in a car crash, and 54-year-old Terry is still grieving over his loss.
He relates this to the audience in the opening monologue of a superb new play by the prolific Michael McKeever called Mr. Parker. Terry is performed by McKeever, who probably also edited and printed the programs and sweeps up afterwards at Island City Stage, where this dramatic comedy about moving on with your life is receiving its world premiere. The character is incredulous about events of the previous evening, when he ventured out to a neighborhood New York bar, determined to overcome his morose inertia.
The result of his outing is soon apparent, as a naked 28-year-old, a millennial named Justin, emerges from the bathroom, blithely chatting away as Terry struggles to remember this buff kid’s name.
McKeever has fun contrasting the age-based attitudes of these two strangers on the morning after their hook-up. Terry parentally chides Justin (Samuel Maya) for his aimless life as a bartender and Uber driver, while Justin tweaks Terry for his outmoded reliance on landline phones, CDs and AOL. Could this relationship possibly have a future?
Justin is a little awed by Terry, and he hangs on for whatever momentary enjoyment and casual sex he can derive. But Terry is an incurable romantic who begins getting emotionally attached to Justin.
The third leg of the triangular cast is Cassie (Margot Moreland), Jeff’s sister and business manager, who understandably takes an instant distain for Justin. She arrives at Jeff’s studio – which Terry cannot bear to sell – with the news that the Whitney Museum wants to do a retrospective of Jeff’s photographic career, not just the signature close-up shots of cellphones that brought him art world celebrity.
But as Jeff’s executor, it is Terry who must OK the show and he cannot bring himself to return the Whitney’s calls, incurring Cassie’s high-powered wrath. It is a decision that suggests a finality to Jeff’s life, not unlike the choice Terry had to make seven months earlier to take his husband off of life supports.
Some of the play’s best writing is in the confrontations between Terry and Cassie, elevated by performances of a bull-headed Moreland and pain-riddled McKeever. He continues to churn out first-rate scripts at an astonishing rate, but is rarely given sufficient credit for his acting skill. Of course, it helps that he often tailors such sympathetic, multi-dimensional roles for himself.
Maya certainly looks the part of Justin, but is not as accomplished an actor as his castmates. He is convincing enough as the callow young man, even as we sense there is more to explore in the role than he is able to convey. Presumably director Michael Leeds coached Maya into the performance he gives, while also using his dramaturgical acumen to help shape this evolving new play script.
Ardean Landhuis’s scenic design for the studio apartment, complete with slanted skylight, is one of the most attractive ever seen at Island City Stage. And credit should go to Peter A. Lovello for his costumes, ranging from Cassie’s couture to Justin’s array of T-shirts.
At a tight, intermissionless 80 minutes, a cast of three and a single set, Mr. Parker is economical enough to attract attention and many subsequent productions elsewhere. That is also happens to be a humorous and often wrenching tale that is easy to relate to doesn’t hurt either.
MR. PARKER, Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Through Sunday, July 15. $35. 954-519-2533 or visit www.islandcitystage.org.