How do you go on when the intricately constructed world you shared with a 30-year soulmate is suddenly ripped away?
Terrence “Terry” Parker is left behind to grapple with that question in “Mr. Parker,” a Michael McKeever play now having its world premiere at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors.
McKeever, the award-winning South Florida playwright and co-founder of Miami’s Zoetic Stage, has written a tight, often funny and decidedly moving three-character play. The observant drama centers on a middle-aged writer who is suddenly uncoupled when his photographer husband of six years — and partner for three decades — dies after being hit by a car and, following Terry’s agonizing decision, is taken off life support.
Although the setup may sound glum, “Mr. Parker” is in fact a sharp, observant exploration of learning how to move on after a tragedy.
McKeever is originating the role of Terry, and unsurprisingly, the part fits him like a bespoke suit. He begins the play gently, summoning a deep well of emotion as he sits on the end of the bed in the small Greenwich Village studio apartment that served as his late husband’s studio. His blue eyes glisten in the spotlight as he explains how his life was upended seven months ago, how mourning finally gave way to the need for connection.
Then, suddenly, the lights come up, the cheery sounds of singing fill a tiny bathroom, and a gorgeous naked 28-year-old emerges.
Terry, who will soon turn 54, has that oh-my-God-morning-after feeling. He remembers little about what happened, so little that he keeps calling his handsome pickup “Kevin,” though the guy’s name is actually Justin Groff (Samuel Maya). Although he’s technically back in the game, Terry is as awkward as this chatty hottie, a bartender and Uber driver, is easy.
Soon, a third character enters the fray. Cassandra “Cassie” St. Claire (Margot Moreland) is Terry’s sister-in-law, the woman who ran the business side of her late brother Jeffrey McCabe’s acclaimed career as a nationally prominent photographer. Cassie is a shark dressed in elegant evening attire, a woman determined to bolster her brother’s legacy with an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, a Type A-plus New Yorker who uses words as weaponry.
Justin, whom she ignores entirely on their first meeting, describes her this way: “I think she’s amazeballs. She’s really funny. You know, in that hard-edge-look-at-me-the-wrong-way-and-I’ll-shank-you sort of way.”
McKeever, whose plays have been produced all over the United States, in Europe and Russia, has enjoyed growing success lately with his award-winning plays “Daniel’s Husband” (which premiered at Island City Stage and was produced off-Broadway in 2017) and “After” (a 2016 Zoetic Stage world premiere). As a mature playwright, he has become a more adroit craftsman, deftly exploring various facets of the zeitgeist.
In “Mr. Parker,” some of that exploration involves the inevitable collisions and misfires that happen when one person in a relationship is almost twice as old as the other.
Justin, for example, cannot resist the siren song of the cellphone buzzing in his pocket — an irony, because some of Jeffrey’s most coveted photographs were oversize images of the omnipresent devices that variously connect us, distance us and disrupt our in-the-moment lives. Justin schools Terry on Grindr and casual sex. Terry presses Justin on his nonexistent life plan, and the younger man shoots back, “I already have a father. And he’s all the pain in the ass I need.”
Director Michael Leeds gets sizzling performances from McKeever and Moreland, Carbonell Award-winning actors with years of experience. McKeever’s Terry is lost, stuck, vulnerable, still very much in mourning and guilty about having made the call that finally ended his beloved husband’s life. Moreland’s Cassie is driven, sometimes sharply insensitive yet well aware of the deeply connected happiness Terry and Jeffrey shared.
Maya, a model and beginning actor, doesn’t have anything close to the tool kit his fellow actors have built through their years of experience. But Leeds has helped him shape an endearing performance as a millennial drifting toward his future. Maya navigates his character’s stream-of-consciousness dialogue well, and the life-experience chasm that will likely doom Terry and Justin’s relationship is a believably constant undercurrent.
Set and lighting designer Ardean Landhuis has created a spare space for Terry and Justin’s fling, with the most distinctive feature a slanted skylight. Costume designer Peter A. Lovello makes Moreland look New York chic and draws the contrast between Terry’s easygoing style and Justin’s hipster threads. Sound designer David Hart supplies connective music and a last, poignant voicemail message from Jeffrey to Terry.
Legacy is a concept that surfaces more than once in “Mr. Parker.” With his latest script, McKeever is adding to his own.
“Mr. Parker” runs through July 15 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, in Wilton Manors. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $35. To order, call 954-519-2533 or go to IslandCityStage.org.