'Harbor' at Westport Country Playhouse

by David A. Rosenberg

Somewhere inside “Harbor” is a serious play screaming to get out. Chad Beguelin’s new work at the Westport Country Playhouse is so busy setting up gags that it gags on its own attempts to be clever and witty, not a little vulgar and about as credible as political speeches.

 

Taking place in Sag Harbor, good for a joke and metaphor in itself, “Harbor” has conflicts to spare -- brother against sister, child against mother, lovers against each other -- in a well-constructed plot with proper climax and dénouement.

 

Into the peaceable garden of Kevin, a wannabe writer, and his spouse Ted, an architect, comes the snake. She’s Kevin’s foul-mouthed, single, pregnant sister Donna who arrives with 15-year-old daughter, Lottie. Mother and daughter travel in the van in which they also live, a situation the bright and volatile Lottie hates almost as much as she apparently hates the struggling Donna and loves reading Edith Wharton.

 

Wanting to better herself, or, at least, follow some elusive singing career, Donna proposes that Kevin and Ted adopt the baby she’s carrying, to be brought up in circumstances that are obviously a vast improvement over what Donna can offer. After all, didn’t Kevin like playing dress-up when they were children, pretending to be the mother? Now’s his chance to fulfill that fantasy.

 

Ted, meanwhile, declares he detests the thought of having children, prompting spirited talk of how kids are over-indulged these days. He doesn’t even want a dog. Recriminations follow.

 

Beguelin, an out author, lards the evening with Donna’s discomfiting homophobic rants. When informed that Kevin and Ted have been together 10 years, her cheap riposte is “That’s almost 53 years in straight people’s lives.” What she says about the partners’ computer and kitchen is both squirm-inducing and unprintable.

 

The issue of gays having kids is challenging and complex. Time was, of course, when such would have been impossible. Nowadays, in a reversal, gay couples are chided for not having children who will, at least, be “there” at the end. (“You’re afraid you’re going to be forgotten,” Donna says to Kevin.) But how does that situation differ from straight couples who choose childlessness?

 

What the playwright himself touts as being “honest and raw” is stale and superficial. What purposes to be a look at the shifting definition of “family” is really old sitcoms with mixed genders.

 

Beguelin does get off some breezy zingers, particularly ones that send up business jargon. Under Mark Lamos’ clear-eyed direction, the actors bring heft to characters who are, at times, constructs.

 

Although Kate Nowlin can’t make Donna a person you’d want to be with for more than 30 seconds, she has vitality as she switches from crass to, well, not quite unsympathetic. Alexis Molnar tempers Lottie’s needs with a protective shield, checking emotions by projecting disdain. Her yearning phone call to her putative father is a highlight.

 

Bobby Steggert, as the man-child Kevin, carefully delineates someone who is on the cusp of maturity yet constantly sinking backwards. As Ted, Paul Anthony Stewart uses charm and strength to successfully conquer a role shot full of inconsistencies.

 

Andrew Jackness’ set depicts indoor living quarters against a suggestion of the outdoors, highlighted by classic Greek columns. It is at one with the play: attractive, schizophrenic and retro.

 

This review appeared in The Hour.

 

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