“Harbor,” A World Premiere Comedy in Westport
by Tom Holehan
A contemporary comedy by an American playwright is currently enjoying its world premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse. Under the direction of artistic head Mark Lamos, Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor,” at least in its current incarnation, finds much work still needs to be done. The comedy is an earnest effort but one several drafts short of being complete.
“Harbor” gets off to a rocky start by introducing one of the more obnoxious stage characters we’ve seen in a while. Her name is Donna and she’s the type of trailer park trash we are supposed to find funny or endearing or sympathetic. As played by Kate Nowlin without a trace of subtlety, however, Donna never comes close to being an understandable person. An overbearing mother of a bright 15-year-old (the superb Alexis Molnar), Donna is unemployed, smokes dope, gets drunk and lives out of her van. She is also currently pregnant with the father unknown. But Donna has a plan. She’s visiting her estranged younger brother, Kevin (Bobby Steggert) who lives with his lover Mark (Paul Anthony Stewart) in fashionable Sag Harbor. The intrusion of Donna back into the life of her brother sets the stage for conflict as Kevin and Mark’s seemingly content 10-year-relationship is put to the test.
“Harbor” plays like a television sitcom with much humor made at the expense of the gay lifestyle in Sag Harbor. Mark’s funny and observant rant against children and babies is well played but also reminiscent of material from a “Seinfeld” episode. Certainly Donna’s homophobic slurs wouldn’t be out of place in Archie Bunker’s household, but after a while you do question why intelligent people put up with her. You also wonder why Kevin, who knows his sister better than anyone (she barely finished high school and spent some time in jail), would value her opinion about a novel he is writing. At one point, Donna becomes the wise sage of the play who cuts through the artifice of her brother’s relationship with articulate precision. This does not come out of any reality, only a playwright’s desire to move his plot forward.
Given the material, the actors do the best they can and some more than that. Mr. Stewart’s intelligent performance makes Mark’s barely concealed contempt for Donna completely understandable though there is little chemistry evident between him and Mr. Steggert. While sympathetic, Steggert’s character seems more device than flesh and blood as currently written. The most successful performance of the evening is delivered by young Miss Molnar who also has the best-written role in the play. As the comedy’s voice of reason, Molnar succeeds to winning effect. There may be few if any surprises in Mr. Beguelin’s developing scenario, but Molnar still manages to make you care.
Scenic designer Andrew Jackness has selected some handsome furnishings for the Sag Habor residence but the backdrop of blue shingles often makes it appear that everyone is sitting outside. Candice Donnelly’s costuming perfectly contrasts the Sag Habor lifestyle of the men with the Goodwill-inspired clothing for the women. Director Lamos delivers his customary polished production but to what end? “Harbor” sets out to tell an interesting story that gets bogged down in artifice and familiarity. Paging Terrence McNally.
“Harbor” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through September 15. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.