“Harbor” at Westport Country Playhouse
by Irene Backalenick
When the term “world premiere” is used to depict a show’s opening, it can mean that the play is new, untested, and perhaps shaky. Such is the case with the current “premiere” of “Harbor,” now at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Written by playwright Chad Beguelin (who indeed has had several successful plays under his belt), the piece is a compendium of positives and negatives (not necessarily in that order).
On the plus side are the intriguing and relevant themes. For starters, consider the “unwelcome guest” theme -- a popular theme for playwrights. (In fact, it has worked for Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams, among others.) And, secondly, Beguelin focuses on gay couples who may or may not choose to raise children. Indeed a relevant theme in today’s world!
On the negative side, neither plot development nor characterizations of “Harbor” are satisfactory. The first act of “Harbor” is ponderous, repetitive, slow getting off the ground. Only in the second act do things begin to happen. But characters are not fully-fleshed, enough to justify their various decisions. Nor is “Harbor” hilarious,” as suggested by the promotional material. At its best moments, poignancy is the overriding tone of the play. And that moment comes briefly, in a single speech, when the teen-age girl tries to connect with her father via telephone.
Specifically, the story is about a gay couple, Ted and Kevin, who have been together for about ten years. Ted is a working architect, providing the financial (and emotional) support for Kevin, who is a would-be writer. Suddenly Kevin’s shiftless sister Donna appears on the scene with her fifteen-year-old daughter Lottie, moving in on the reluctant Ted and Kevin. Lottie, who is more adult than her mother, longs for a sane, orderly life. Thus begins the struggle.
Fortunately, the production is directed by the excellent Mark Lamos (Artistic Director of the Playhouse), and the play moves along smoothly at a brisk tempo. Moreover, Kate Nowlin as Donna and Alexis Molnar as Lottie give solid performances, as does Paul Anthony Stewart as Ted. Unfortunately, Bobby Steggert as Kevin tends to fade into the woodwork, but that is as much the fault of the playwright as the actor.
That Donna, the central character, is thoroughly unlikeable does not make for audience empathy. Nor does one feel genuine concern for Ted and Kevin. All told, only the humanity of Lottie shines through, connecting with the audience.
Intriguing though the possibilities may be, given its themes and the efforts of its capable cast, “Harbor” has yet to deliver the goods.
This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com