With the legalization of same sex marriage in 13 states and the increasing number of gay and lesbian couples who are having kids through adoption or surrogacy, today’s modern family looks a lot different than it did even 10 short years ago. However, Chad Beguelin’s thought-provoking new play Harbor, which recently opened at 59 E 59 Theatres, gamely suggests that the bygone days of marriage inequality may have offered safe harbor—or at least plausible deniability—to those gay folks who do not necessarily yearn for 2.5 kids along with their white picket fence.
Such are the sentiments voiced by Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart), a well-healed gay architect, to his husband Kevin (Randy Harrison, from Queer as Folk), in a tirade about entitled parents whose lives are consumed by their children, or, as Ted refers to them, “bacteria-laden petri dishes.” Ted’s rant about the downside of parenting is part of a chain of events set in motion by the sudden arrival of Kevin’s vagabond sister, Donna (Erin Cummings), who lands on the doorstep of the newly-married (and newly-hyphenated) couple’s palatial Sag Harbor home with her 15-year old daughter, Lottie (Alexis Molnar), in tow.
The first-half of Harbor, ably directed by Mark Lamos, moves along briskly with sitcomish banter that highlights Donna’s crudeness, Lottie’s precociousness and Ted’s and Kevin’s superficiality (kudos to costume designer, Candice Donnelly, for outfitting these gay yuppies in seersucker's, tan khakis and Ralph Lauren Polo's, and to set designer, Andrew Jackness, for the oh-so-tasteful colonial furniture that adorns the single living room set where all of the play’s action unfolds). It soon becomes clear that the preternaturally insightful Lottie (who reads Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton) is, essentially, the only real grown-up in the group, a point that is hammered home by Donna’s persistent plea to her disapproving daughter, “Come on, don’t be a biatch!”
Early on in Harbor, the biggest problem faced by Ted and Kevin seems to be figuring out how to shorten Donna’s visit, thus avoiding what Kevin calls a potential “Blanche DuBois” situation. But Donna has a trump card up her sleeve off which she hopes to leverage to launch her show biz career and distance herself (and Lottie) from the smelly van that they arrived in and, for that matter, lived in, before reaching Sag Harbor. In revealing Donna’s agenda and its implications for Ted, Kevin and Lottie, Harbor takes a sharp detour from sitcom territory, as Mr. Beguelin poses interesting questions about what it means to be a parent and whether or not one’s choice to avoid parenthood is an act of selfishness or self-preservation. In so doing, Mr. Beguelin raises the stakes for, and adds layers of complexity to, his characters.
For example, it becomes clear that Kevin and his sister are more alike than either would care to admit, both arrested in their development, and thus unable to realize their artistic dreams as a writer and performer, respectively. Ms. Cummings and Mr. Harrison effectively convey their characters’ pain and confusion in the face of difficult choices that they must make if they are to have any hope of living fulfilled lives. Moreover, Ms. Molnar, in the play’s most challenging role, adroitly reveals to us the frightened child in need of parental guidance that lies beneath the veneer of Lottie’s self-sufficiency.
As alliances shift and Harbor reaches its unforeseen conclusion, we walk away uncertain of the characters’ fates as well as whether there will be a happy ending for any of them. This, certainly, is a good thing, and most definitely a stark distinction from the neatly tied-up bows that mark the end of an episode of your average sitcom.