‘Mr. Parker’ Review: Starting Over

Being a famous artist’s spouse is not easy. Being a famous person’s surviving spouse might be even tougher. That is the plight of Terry, whose husband, Jeffrey, an artist, died as a result of a car crash. Terry, a novelist who put his own creative aspirations on hold when Jeffrey made it big, is confronting an issue many women in straight relationships have long endured: “I was defined by the man I married,” Terry says. “And now, suddenly, for the first time, I’m just … Mr. Parker. And I don’t know how to do that.”

Michael McKeever’s “Mr. Parker,” which just opened on Theater Row, begins seven months after Jeffrey’s death, and Terry (Derek Smith) is still trying to find himself. A good start will be to date again, or at least to pick up a stranger — baby steps.

That’s how Terry finds himself in his husband’s work studio — which feels less emotionally fraught than their apartment — on a hung-over postcoital morning. He can’t quite remember the guy’s name: Kevin, maybe? Actually, it’s Justin (Davi Santos), an easygoing, doe-eyed bartender-slash-Uber driver who is 28 to Terry’s 54.

All in all, it looks like Terry was lucky with his rebound. Justin seems sweet and considerate, if overly chatty. “I am a walking encyclopedia of worthless Manhattan trivia,” he informs Terry, adding, “People either love it or hate it,” as if the ability to spout factoids were a highly contentious trait.

McKeever’s previous Off Broadway shows, “After” and “Daniel’s Husband,” bore in on large societal subjects (gun violence, gay marriage) with a fairly heavy hand. That touch is in evidence here, too: As if losing a husband weren’t awful enough, Terry was at the wheel at the time of the accident. And then a few days later he had to agree to let the doctors turn off the machines keeping Jeffrey alive.

Perhaps this is why the show, a Penguin Rep Theater production directed by Joe Brancato, is at its best in the lighter-toned scenes depicting Terry and Justin’s getting-to-know-you phase. McKeever and Brancato stick with a naturalistic, matter-of-fact plainness that does not shy from the benefits each man derives from the relationship: Justin has found a wealthy guy who pays for everything, while Terry gets to spend quality time with a hunky youth. Still, one wishes that the age difference were evoked in less simplistic brushstrokes. Justin has to explain to Terry that vinyl is cool but CDs are not. Terry complains that Justin spends too much time on his phone. You’d think Terry was a 90-year-old relic who had spent decades under a rock, not a man in his early 50s who used to be married to a hotshot artist and must have been exposed to technological and sociological changes.

In any case, Terry has a living, breathing reminder of his inadequacies in Jeffrey’s sister, the brittle Cassandra (Mia Matthews), who is casually dismissive of Justin and tries to get the distraught Terry to be more proactive in his management of the imposing estate he now oversees.

But Terry has spent decades in a famous man’s shadow and has forgotten how to make decisions for himself. Grief only compounds his stasis: He holds onto his old answering machine because it contains a saved message from Jeffrey, and endlessly postpones talking to a Whitney Museum curator who wants to organize a retrospective.

“Mr. Parker” is not the kind of play that springs surprises on the audience, so its denouement is entirely predictable. And that is perhaps the show’s biggest asset: Real life can be ho-hum, too. One day you can’t move on, and the next, you can.

Mr. Parker
Through June 25 at Theater Row, Manhattan; Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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