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Actor Ryan Spahn on why he's starring in this play a third time
Over the past three years, Ryan Spahn has portrayed the same part in three separate runs of the same play. And yet, due to major political upheavals during that time, each successive mounting of Michael McKeever's emotionally charged Daniel's Husband has felt more urgent. Spahn plays Daniel, a successful gay architect whose picture-perfect life with his longtime partner Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo) is only missing one thing: a marriage certificate. Daniel is desperate to make it legal but Mitchell refuses, and their stalemate ends up having unforeseen consequences.
A New York stage regular who's had memorable turns in Gloria at the Vineyard Theatre and Summer and Smoke at Classic Stage Company, Spahn originally tackled the role of Daniel at Stony Point, NY's Penguin Rep Theatre in 2016 before the presidential election. He reprised the part last year at NYC's Cherry Lane Theatre, and now the drama returns for an open run at Off-Broadway's Westside Theatre just as the balance of the Supreme Court is shifting, potentially putting same-sex marriage in jeopardy.
"It's so necessary now to keep the conversation going," says Spahn, who is openly gay. "When we first started performing this play it was during the 2016 presidential primaries, and even last year it didn't seem as culturally relevant as it does right now. We are all more aware about what rights we may lose during this administration."
To wed, or not to wed -- that's been a hot-button topic in the LGBTQ community ever since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in 2013, allowing same-sex couples to marry throughout the country. It was a hard-won victory and yet not all gay people embraced the idea. After all, who wants to join a club that refused membership for so long?
Daniel's Husband explores that reluctance as well as the legal issues it can cause. It's a powerful cautionary tale that's actually inspired some audience members to finally tie the knot. "So many gay people have come up to me after the show and told me that watching this made them decide to get married," Spahn says. "The concerns aren't quite the same for straight people, and the play magnifies how otherized gay people still feel. That's the true reality we have to deal with."
There's a bit of irony to him playing Daniel considering Spahn's been in a decade-long relationship with fellow actor Michael Urie (currently starring on Broadway in Torch Song Trilogy), yet they remain unwed. "You always have to find your way into a character somehow, and even though Daniel's opinion on the need for marriage is not the same as mine, there are many things I understand about him," Spahn says. "For example, you get the sense he will leave the relationship if it doesn't go his way on this issue, and I am someone who also likes to get my way. And I think we all relate to the idea of the American Dream: wanting to have a good job, a house, savings in the bank. Daniel is someone who won't feel complete until that final box -- marriage -- is checked. Even if that's not me nor Michael, it's a valid life choice for many people."
And Spahn feels strongly that no one should be legally deprived of that choice -- not just because Daniel's Husband will become outdated if marriage equality is overturned, but because, maybe one day, he'll want the option himself.
"Growing up as a teenager in Michigan, marriage was not something on my radar, and then Michael and I got together when George W. Bush was in office and it wasn't legal," he says. "So it still feels a bit unfair that we should want or need this institution -- we've both spent multiple decades squashing that desire. But we do know the ramifications of not being married are big. So, yeah, we do think sometimes about just going to City Hall and making it legal. You never know."
Top image: Ryan Spahn and Matthew Montelongo in Daniel's Husband. Photos by Carol Rosegg.