British playwright Simon Stephens has written several striking plays, but Harper Regan, now making its American debut at Atlantic Theater Company under the direction of Gaye Taylor Upchurch, simply doesn't impress as one of them.
In this bland work, the title character (played by dependable Atlantic company regular Mary McCann) is a troubled woman who goes on a shorter-than-it-first-seems journey from Uxbridge to Manchester, leaving husband Seth (Gareth Saxe, in an ultimately subtle turn) and outspoken, foul-mouthed daughter Sarah (Madeleine Martin) behind.
Sadly, Stephens never reveals the true source of her troubles. While he suggests parts of the problem are her dying father and her husband's bout with the law over alleged child pornography, in the end, it seems that she's having little more than a" bit of a mid-life crisis" as Regan's mother Alison Woolley (Mary Beth Peil) puts it midway through the shortish two-act piece. That's a stale conceit that doesn't make for engaging drama.
For the majority of the play, Harper holds a series of mostly one-on-one, relatively unedifying chats with everyone from her boss, Elwood Barnes (Jordan Lage) to 17-year-old Tobias Rich (Stephen Tyrone Williams), nurse Justine Ross (Mahira Kakkar), anti-Semitic barfly Mickey Nestor (Peter Scanavino), and philandering James Foster (Christopher Innvar).
As these unsatisfying encounters go by on Rachel Hauck's multi-walled set, those walls fall sequentially to reveal more of the stage. One might suspect this is a metaphor for walls falling between Regan and the people whom she meets — except that few such walls do seem to fall. It's just one more miscalculation in this troubled work.