Laugh-out-loud funny and equally devastating, Chad Beguelin's off-Broadway debut offers an insightful view on the way the world truly works.
The well-appointed two-story homes of Sag Harbor, New York, are all tinted a very distinctive green — the color of old money. At least that is the way they appear in Chad Beguelin's Harbor, now receiving its New York premiere from Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Money or the lack thereof is very much at the heart of this hilarious and often heartbreaking play about the gaping chasm between expectations and reality.
The Adams-Wellers, Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart) and Kevin (Randy Harrison), are living the homo-American dream on Long Island. Their beautifully restored home is teeming with reupholstered antique furniture, Apple products, and top-shelf liquor. When Kevin's homeless and pregnant sister, Donna (Erin Cummings), shows up with her uncommonly bright 14-year-old daughter, Lottie (Alexis Molnar), he is blindsided by a blast from his white-trash past. He also sees an opportunity to capture the one thing he's been missing from his idyllic lifestyle when Donna suggests that Ted and Kevin adopt her new baby. Too bad Ted thinks that babies are disgusting, needy Petri dishes for whom he is unwilling to compromise his glamorous life of luxury vacations and overpriced designer shorts.
Harbor offers a realistic depiction of a very specific type of gay male relationship: Ted is the breadwinner, a wealthy and successful architect; Kevin is an unpublished writer (ahem...kept man) whose greatest accomplishment is winning the cartoon caption contest in the back of The New Yorker. Ted might protest that he has no interest in children, but perhaps that is only because he already treats his husband like one. Is it possible to maintain a stable partnership under such a pronounced power imbalance? Stewart and Harrison dig deep into this dynamic, with thrilling and dramatically charged results.
An accomplished lyricist, Beguelin (The Wedding Singer) is an undeniably witty writer. That is both a blessing and a curse: Sometimes a funny, but ill-placed one-liner undermines the dramatic action. Precious stage time is given over to epic rants about entitled New York City parents and "in my day..." These elicit heavy guffaws of approval from the audience, but don't necessarily do much to develop the characters. In an early scene in which the adult characters get acquainted over vodka martinis, Ted becomes sloshed faster than in any such get-drunk-and-discuss-sensitive-issues plays I've seen. Stewart makes it work, but the effect is somewhat like watching a B-52 take off from an aircraft carrier.
Beguelin gives other moments much more time to marinate, like Lottie's phone call to her father (or at least the man whom she believes to be her father). Skillfully acted by Molnar, this is the most devastating moment in the play. I am sure more than a few audience members had to restrain themselves from running onstage to hug this intelligent and sensitive young woman, who has grown up far too quickly as a necessary response to crippling poverty and her mother's carelessness.
With a judicious combination of design and timing, director Mark Lamos is able to exacerbate the ever-present financial and class conflicts in the script. Donna marches her leopard-print high heels across Ted and Kevin's bourgeois paradise, leaving mud tracks all over this seersucker-and-polo wonderland. When describing the benefits of the cruise ship job she has her sights set on, Donna gleefully exclaims, "Thirty thousand a year!" Ted and Kevin look on in horror as the audience audibly gasps.
Andrew Jackness' versatile, money-green set ensures that we can never forget the underpinning issues of this play. Japhy Weideman's simple and unobtrusive lighting allows for the creation of several playing spaces and overlapping scenes, even on that unit set.
Acerbic and prescient, Harbor offers a bleakly realistic, yet hopeful vision for the future. Beguelin's world is one in which no one gets what they want, but perhaps everyone gets what they need.