Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Palm Springs / Coachella Valley

Meeting Mr. McKeever and Mr. Parker
Interview by Robert Sokol

Michael McKeever
Photo courtesy of Mr. McKeever
Author of more than three dozen plays, Michael McKeever has had his work produced across the country and around the world, with particular success in German-speaking countries, Poland, and most recently in Israel. His prominent works include Clark Gable Slept Here, South Beach Babylon, and 37 Postcards. He cites the Off-Broadway hits Daniel's Husband and Mr. Parker, the latter now on stage at Dezart Performs in Palm Springs, as his most performed works. Over his career, McKeever has been nominated for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award four times and received both an NEA Residency Grant and the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement. An award-winning designer and illustrator, McKeever lives in Florida with his husband, Stuart Meltzer, where they are the producing and artistic directors, respectively, of Zoetic Stage, founded in 2010.

Robert Sokol: How are things in Florida now that you have you Mr. DeSantis back full time?

MM: Would you like him? I'm more than happy to give him to you.

RS: Thank you, no. To paraphrase Sondheim, I'm sorry for Florida, but I'm just grateful to be done with him as a daily news item for a while.

MM: He's just a mess. The only good thing about his short-lived bid for the presidency was that it turned off a lot of the other lunatics on the fringe right, so that might have an impact on how he does next election here in Florida.

RS: Do politics infuriate you or do they also inspire you to write?

MM: I let very little infuriate me. The same, sadly, cannot be said for my husband. He's getting better with it now, but it's the sort of thing that just makes him go wild every four years. We have to batten down the hatches because I know he's gonna be really, really upset for at least two or three months.

RS: What's the curse? May you live in interesting times.

MM: It's maddening. I don't ever remember it being as divisive and just as dangerous as it is now in my entire life.

RS: If you stay away from politics in your writing, what does inspire you? What makes you say, "This has to be a play and I have to write it."

MM: I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Anything from a conversation over lunch to walking along the beach. We tend to travel every summer and take big vacations and there's always inspiration in exploring new places. At any given time, there are two or three plotlines percolating somewhere in the back of my brain. One of the reasons why my actual writing process is so fast is that I think about plays for a long, long time. Then, when I finally sit down at the computer to start writing, it takes me less than a couple months, usually about a month, to get the first draft done–with the absolute understanding that there's going to be a lot of rewrites, of course.

RS: You started out as an actor, right?

MM: Yes, but actually my first career was as a designer. My degree is in advertising design and so through my twenties I worked for a production house as an art director on television production, sets, and animations. I've always been interested in writing and in my very early thirties I started writing plays. My work got picked up and so I explored being an actor again as well, which I very much enjoy. So, I am a playwright who also acts and on rare occasions designs sets.

RS: You've also co-founded a theatre company. Are you still actively involved in it?

MM: Yes. We founded Zoetic Stage with another couple fourteen years ago. It's down in Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts. My title was producing director and I've played several different roles over the last fourteen years. At this point, I oversee a lot of the productions, I'm putting out a lot of fires in any given week during our season and overseeing different aspects of production as they occur.

RS: Tell me about Mr. Parker. Why do I want to meet him?

MM: Mr. Parker represents people of a certain age, not necessarily even gay men, but people of a certain age who wake up one day after being in a long-term relationship and find themselves alone and not wanting to delve into a new world which is terrifying in so many different ways.

I've been with my husband for twenty years, so I talked to friends about dating apps like Grindr for a short play and I spelled Grindr g-r-i-n-d-e-r and everyone found that just hysterical. It just shows you how little I know about that world. I wanted to investigate what happens when suddenly you find yourself alone in the world. Not necessarily about dating. Just being in what this world's become and how it's changed so drastically since the turn of the century.

So, Mr. Parker, after shutting himself away and mourning not only his husband but also the life that he lived with him, steps out into the world for the first time in seven months to find out what's out there. There's a chance encounter, a one-night stand and, you know, it becomes the first step out of his bubble. I empathize with him, not only because of the shared age, but just by nature of his uncertainty, which I certainly have, and I think a lot of people have. When it played Off-Broadway, I was thrilled because I had so many friends, not only gay men, but straight men and women say, "My God, I understand exactly what he's going through." Or "I've never thought of that. What would I do in that situation?" That's kind of what I always try to do with my plays–to write characters that the audience members can empathize, understand, and sympathize with.

RS: Has Mr. Parker grown since Off-Broadway or is it the same script?

MM: It has evolved. There was a lovely production that was done at Penguin Rep, which is about a half hour outside the city. Then the pandemic happened. It was during that time that I made the final changes and added some scenes and some revisions. That's the version that got published and that's the version that's out in California right now.

RS: The dynamics of death and seemingly inevitable in-law conflicts in gay marriages are themes characters in both Daniel's Husband and Mr. Parker have to manage. Why does the topic resonate for you?

MM: As gay men, we create our own families. It's something that happens sometimes out of necessity and sometimes just because the world has really caught up with us. We also all come with families, whether we like them or not. I was blessed because I was raised in a very large Italian family that was very loud and very full of love. I enjoy my family and always was very happy growing up with them. Many of my gay friends had really, you know, dark family upbringings and histories. I've always been fascinated by the dichotomy around how we grow new families, while at the same time dealing with and holding onto the family that we grew up with.

RS: How much do you engage with new productions of your work? Do you make yourself available to consult or do you just leave it all to the licensing agent?

MM: For New York productions, I'm always there for rehearsal. Not to get in the way, but because I'm a strong believer that theatre is a collaborative art. Any playwright or director or actor who says that it isn't isn't doing it right. I think it's so important to get those different points of views from a really savvy director or really good actors because they shine light on things that can offer a take or a point of view you've never even considered.

In Daniel's Husband, a gentleman named Matthew Montelongo played the lead and our director Joe Brancato and I were discussing the need for a monologue that wasn't in the other Off-Broadway production. Long story short, I wrote it, but I was never convinced that it was the right thing to do. But Matt learned the monologue within an hour, and we put it in one of the next previews. It brought such clarity to that moment of the play. Just reading it on the page, I didn't think it would land, but hearing it in the mouth of a really, really talented actor made all the difference in the world. It's in the script today because of that experience.

RS: Theatre is an ephemeral art, for sure, but the collaborations and the inspirations it brings can last.

MM: That's a really beautiful way of describing it because one of the things I love about the theatre is that a play could run for six weeks or two months or three years and in every single performance, there's going to be something that's just a little bit different. Either there's a different kind of vibe in the audience or one of the actors just got engaged and so they bring new energy into the room. Every night is just a little bit different.

A wonderful director I had thirty years ago told me that the beautiful thing about live theatre is that it's a dangerous place. You never know what's going to happen. I always thought that was a wonderful way of describing the theatre: a dangerous place.

RS: You've got three actors in this production with substantial musical theatre credits. Has that genre ever appealed to you as a playwright?

MM: Yes, and now, for the first time, I'm working on a musical. I love musical theater, but I've never written for it. I've been offered several opportunities to do it before, but the projects just weren't right. This particular one, though, really, really spoke to me. It is a subject that excited me and inspired me to work with two collaborators that I really love and really respect.

RS: Whose playwriting are you admiring, perhaps even envying right now?

MM: Currently? Lucas Hnath I think is an amazing, amazing writer. There are younger writers of whose work I'm a huge fan. There's a young writer named Marco Ramirez, who I think writes beautiful, very funny, and very young plays. Hannah Benitez is a young playwright who I think has great, great style. One of my best friends in the world is the writer Chris Demos-Brown. He's one of the founders of Zoetic Stage as well. He wrote American Son, which starred Kerry Washington on Broadway.

RS: What are you actively doing to nurture new writers?

MM: At Zoetic, one of the things that we believe as a theatre company is that it's important that we develop and produce new works. We have produced the Finstrom Festival, where we get submissions from around the country. Three plays are picked for a festival reading scenario and last year, a play called Wicked Child by a playwright named David Rosenberg was presented as part of our regular season. He's really smart, in his early thirties, and really savvy, and incredibly political. Personally, I have some really wonderful young friends who are great playwrights, and we're constantly giving each other notes about upcoming work and what we are working on.

RS: Is there anything more about this engagement of Mr. Parker that you think is important to share?

MM: I think Michael Shaw at Dezart is amazing. I think the theatre company produces beautiful work and I always follow along to see what they're doing. If I lived any closer, I would definitely be coming to see their work on a regular basis, but being on the other side of the country makes it difficult. As for the play, I think you've got it. I think the play is about being a certain age, the times in which we live now, and how to navigate through and be a part of it. It's really that simple.

Mr. Parker runs through April 21, 2024, at Dezart Performs, The Pearl McManus Theater, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs CA. Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, and Sunday at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $48. For tickets and information, please visit or call 760-322-0179, Extension 1.