‘Harbor’ doesn’t achieve potential at Westport Country Playhouse
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
The new play, “Harbor,” set in Sag Harbor on Long Island, is like watching a TV reality show based on an episode of Jerry Springer. The humor is largely of the sitcom variety. We were drawn to the play at the Westport Country Playhouse because it was announced as a story about a long-term gay marriage, a once unimaginable theme for commercial theater audiences. The substantial writing credentials and personal experiences of openly gay playwright Chad Beguelin gave hope for a play with insight and depth about a type of relationship that is misunderstood by a large segment of the population.
What he has written is an ultra-lightweight piece depicting a gay couple, Kevin and Ted, who’ve been together for 10 years. They’re drawn in a stereotypically mincing style, a flashback to the pre-Stonewall era, when all gays were perceived in the media as flighty and ridiculous.
Kevin’s manipulative and bigoted straight sister, Donna, arrives unannounced for a social visit, even though she hasn’t seen her brother in years. She has in tow her intelligent and emotionally adult fifteen year-old daughter, Lottie, who can’t wait to get away from the high drama of her mother’s out-of-control life.
Donna (Kate Knowlin) manipulates Kevin (Bobby Steggert) into thinking that his life and relationship are both useless and empty unless he and his partner Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart) adopt her unborn, unwanted, illegitimate baby. Donna’s speech is gratuitously foul, her favorite word being ‘fuck.’ She’s pregnant by a partner(s) unknown, and she is consciously willing to get her way by breaking up the couple’s comfortable relationship by dumping her expected baby into her unemployed, spoiled brother’s lap. If there were a poster girl for the pro-abortion movement, the trailer-trash character of Donna would be a perfect fit.
Even though it’s 2012, the gay men are boxed into the tired old cliche roles of the weak feminine “wife” who reveals that he thinks his life is meaningless without a child to raise, and the stronger but fey “husband” who doesn’t want children. But, Ted wants and adores Kevin for many reasons, including what he calls Kevin’s charming quality of being so “needy.” Is that a plausible foundation for a relationship to stay glued together for any number of years?
The characters spend much time drinking, cursing and screaming, getting falling-down drunk and smoking weed because the author hasn’t given them truthful dialogue to move along what should be a better-structured and meaningful plot with a believable resolution. Instead, the play abruptly stops and it’s left up to the audience to write the ending.
Scenic designer Andrew Jackness has created an elegant exterior frame that encloses the handsome and comfortable interior. The lighting design is fine, but the sound, at times, prevents the audience from hearing the actors.
As Donna’s fifteen-year-old daughter Lottie, Alexis Molnar has the only believable part in the piece and gives a fine performance. She gets a few laughs from the “let’s-put-a-joke-in-here” book. Why Lottie didn’t run away from her mean-spirited dysfunctional mother a long time before arriving in Sag Harbor is just one more hole in the plot.
The rest of the cast has the daunting task of playing never fully developed characters. These are unlikeable people who never ring of the truth, so that the audience cannot feel empathy, sympathy or affection for their circumstances. The play doesn’t draw you in emotionally and hold you through the last scene.
Director Mark Lamos would have better served the actors had he been seated in the last rows of the theater to realize that Mr. Steggert spoke so softly that it was hard to hear many of his lines. Ms. Knowlin’s manic portrayal of Donna was read so fast that we often couldn’t understand her words. Paul Anthony Stewart as Ted has considerable acting talent and stage presence. His wonderful voice clearly enunciated every word and he gave a consistently even performance with what he had to work with in this play.
Sitting in the darkened theater watching “Harbor” was an uncomfortable experience not because of the less-than-believable storyline, but because we kept thinking that straight folks who have a pre-conceived notion that all gay people are shallow and weak, and gay folks who think that all straight people are bigoted and hateful, might actually think this contrived melodrama is authentic.
“Harbor” also made us wonder if the playwright had been influenced by le grand auteurs
Francaise, whose endings, like the unresolved ending of this overly long two-act play, offer the message “Life sucks, and then you die.”
The playwright’s story, apparently based on questioning his own relationship, is an implausible view of gay marriage, especially in this politically charged year when many candidates are again using this hot-button issue to gain the support of homophobes and anti-gay organizations with a political platform that promises to use a hoped-for majority in the chambers of Congress, and control of the White House, to once and for all deny constitutionally guaranteed equal rights for a minority group of American citizens.
If you go, “Harbor” runs through September 15 at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, Connecticut. Ticket prices are $30.00 - $50.00. call 203.227.4177, toll-free 888.927.7529 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org
THIS REVIEW WAS PUBLISHED ON EXAMINER.COM ON SEPT. 6, 2012