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Mr. Parker

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 7, 2022

Davi Santos, Derek Smith, and Mia Matthews
Photo by John Quilty
A middle-aged gay man, suddenly alone after the death of his husband, experiences his year of magical thinking in Michael McKeever's Mr. Parker. Beautifully performed by its cast of three, the play borrows tropes from stories of widowhood and rearranges them into a tender tale of a heart and a life on the mend.

A production of Penguin Theatre, Mr. Parker opened last night at Theatre Row under the finely tuned direction of Joe Brancato. We first meet up with Terry Parker (Derek Smith) in an East Village studio apartment, a fifth floor walkup brilliantly designed by David Goldstein with the look of every 20-year-old's first New York home. But Terry is not 20. He is 54 and suddenly no longer one half of the team of Jeffrey and Terry, who had been together since they themselves were in their early 20s. Jeffrey's career as an artist (the apartment served as his studio) was pretty much the main focus of their relationship. His death in the hospital following a car accident has left Terry bereft, numb, and unable to make any decisions about his future. Indeed, he has pretty much abandoned the couple's upscale condo and is spending more and more time holed up in the studio.

"You fall into this pit and stay there for a very long time," Terry tells us in an opening monologue. "And then one day you climb out and go to a bar, where you drink too much and pick up a stranger."

And lo and behold, in walks that stranger, stepping out from the bathroom, 28, chatty as a cat, bouncy as a puppy dog, and bare-ass naked. (Yondr pouches are in use, FYI). If only Terry could remember his name. (It's "Justin," and he is played with a wonderful sense of carpe diem enthusiasm by Davi Santos).

As the one-night stand turns into something more, Terry begins his long journey toward rejoining the world. It's all very lovely, but can it last? That's the question posed by Terry's sister-in-law, Jeffrey's sister Cassandra (Mia Matthews), who has always been Jeffrey's business manager, and who comes to Terry with thrilling news. The Whitney Museum wants to mount a retrospective of Jeffrey's work; it just needs Terry's approval since he is executor of the estate. Terry and Cassandra have never been the best of friends, and their dealings over Jeffrey's legacy are fraught. When she comes to the studio to talk to Terry, Justin watches the pair of them as if observing a grueling tennis match.

While the play itself never gets overly sentimental, it does stumble once in a while, and there is, at one point, an especially off-putting clich├ęd scene between Cassandra and Justin. But all told, Mr. Parker is a genuine audience pleaser, filled with humor and warmth. It makes for a wonderfully engaging 90 minutes, thanks to the playwright's insightful dialog, the not-always-predictable interactions among the three characters, and the terrific performances by Derek Smith, Davi Santos, and Mia Matthews.

Mr. Parker
Through June 25, 2022
Penguin Theatre
Theatre Row, Theatre One, 410 West 42nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: