Monday, September 10, 2012

Theater Review: Harbor -- Westport

Paul Anthony Stewart and Bobby Steggert. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Family Doesn't Always Provide a Safe Harbor
By Lauren Yarger
The visit from hell, from a relative who drops by unexpectedly and shows no signs of leaving any time soon gets an added twist in Chad Beguelin's play Harbor receiving its world premiere at Westport Country Playhouse.

The twist is that Donna (Kate Nowlin) isn't going to leave until her brother, Kevin (Bobby Steggert) and his partner, Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart) agree to raise the baby she is carrying. Her on-again, off-again career singing in dives and granting sexual favors to men in exchange for money to provide for teen daughter Lottie (Alexis Molnar) hasn't been much of a success. When Donna and Lottie pull up in their battered van that doubles as a home , Donna hatches a plan to leave her unborn child with Kevin and Ted in their large Sag Harbor home.

A few glitches, develop, however, as Donna manipulates her brother with memories of their childhood and his longtime desire to be a "mommy." Successful architect Ted, however, doesn't want kids, to interfere with the couple's lifestyle. In fact, in many ways, Ted already feels he is playing parent to and supporting Kevin, who plays at being a writer, but who hasn't earned a living yet.

While Donna encourages Kevin to get drunk and use weed to wear down his defenses, Ted develops a friendship with Lottie who is tired of being the adult in the relationship with her mother. She just wants the next three years until her 18th birthday to be normal, where she can focus on school (she's a gifted student), have a birthday party like other kids and stay in one place for a while.

Mark Lamos directs taught performances across the board in a story that succeeds in not becoming just another family dysfunction play, even though we're treated to yet another mother from hell. Nowlin's depth adds some humor and humanity to the crass, irresponsible homophobic Donna. Molnar balances her with a Lottie who is smart and bitter, but vulnerable rather than bratty. Stewart morphs nicely from the "nice guy" being all loving and supportive to the real Ted, who can be pretty selfish. Steggert stays one-tone for the submissive, wishy washy Kevin, even when he tries to show some backbone. It is the essence of this character and a nice acting accomplishment for the New York star (Ragtime, 110 in the Shade, Yank!). A less experienced performer might have been tempted to have his moment in the spotlight which would have taken away from Beguelin's nice study.

The action takes place in the house, framed by the exterior (Andrew Jackness, scenic design) with additional locations played out on the side of the stage (designer Japhy Weideman's lighting here needs some work). The always excellent John Gromada provides sound design.

Harbor runs through Sept. 15 Tuesday at 8 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. The Playhouse recommends  this show for audience members ages 16 and up.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 203-227-4177, 888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online at www.westportplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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