August 24, 2013

This "Harbor" Offers No Sanctuary for the Poor

We need more poor playwrights.  I don't mean bad writers or even those who are living hand-to mouth for the sake of their art but people who have grown up in families that had to struggle to make ends meet. If we did, then we might ger fewer plays like Harbor, the dramedy now playing at Primary Stages that offers a really condescending look at what it's like to be a single mom so poor that you have to raise your kid in a van.

I’ve no idea what playwright Chad Beguelin’s socio-economic upbringing was but here’s the set-up he’s created: Ted and Kevin are a newly married couple who live comfortably in Sag Harbor, where Ted works as an architect and Kevin dabbles at writing. Their cozy upscale life is upended by a surprise visit from Kevin’s sister Donna, who is brash and crass, and her 15-year-old daughter Lottie, who is witty and precocious in the way that writers like their teens to be.   

Beguelin, who is best known for writing lyrics for Elf and The Wedding Singer, gives each character a wear-it-on-the-lapel motivation: Donna wants the men to adopt the new baby that she is carrying, Lottie longs to find her dad and to have a real home, Kevin needs to have a real purpose in life beyond being a legalized boy toy and Ted just wants to live the new gay American dream of a great job, a beautiful home (although the musty set doesn't quite live up to that) and a fully legitimate spouse.

All of their lives change over Harbor’s two-hours running time but I’m afraid I didn’t buy it. I particularly didn’t buy Donna, who is portrayed as such a screw-up that she isn’t sure who fathered either of her children, openly refers to her brother and his husband as homos and drinks and does drugs while pregnant even though she’s constantly talking about what a good mother she is.

I’m not saying that women who do those things don’t exist but their behavior is rooted in specific circumstances that this play just glosses over or, worse, plays for cheap laughs.  

The gay couple comes off better. Beguelin says that the tension between Kevin and Ted over whether to take Donna’s child was inspired by discussions that he and his partner have had (click here to read an interview the playwright did with Out Magazine) and the men in Harbor seemed more grounded in the reality of what happens when even people who truly love one another find themselves at an impasse.  

The chemistry between Randy Harrison, forever known as the hunky young kid on TV’s "Queer as Folk,” as Kevin and Paul Anthony Stewart as the stalwart but sympathetic Ted works too. Maybe Beguelin should have just focused solely on their emotional and sexual dynamics and left the stuff about class differences and poor women to someone else.

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