Comedy overwhelms drama in NCTC’s ‘Harbor’ 

click to enlarge Clockwise from bottom left, Teri Whipple, Scott Cox, Andrew Nance and Jenna Herz appear in the West Coast premiere of “Harbor.” - COURTESY LOIS TEMA
  • COURTESY LOIS TEMA
  • Clockwise from bottom left, Teri Whipple, Scott Cox, Andrew Nance and Jenna Herz appear in the West Coast premiere of “Harbor.”
When couples enter long-term relationships without total clarity and agreement about potential parenthood, things can get dicey.

That’s the situation in Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor,” a West Coast premiere at New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Ted’s an architect who’s been supporting his husband, Kevin, for the past 10 years while Kevin is writing a novel.

When Kevin’s slutty white-trash sister Donna shows up unexpectedly with her brainy and unhappy teenage daughter Lottie, a self-described weirdo, the men’s seemingly placid life together explodes.

All four characters have, to varying degrees, urgent needs. Ted loves Kevin and their upscale, Sag Harbor lifestyle (smart set by Devin Kasper), but wishes he’d finish his novel already. Kevin too wants to finish his book (“I’m a hack!” he moans at one point) and find a publisher, but he also wants—well, he’d settle for a dog.

Lottie wants to find the father she never knew, mainly hoping to escape from her “certified cuckoo clock” of a mother and the van they live in. And pregnant and wily Donna wants to unload her expected baby, provenance unknown, on her brother; she’s convinced Kevin has always wanted to be . . . a mother. Her persistence unhinges ambivalent Kevin, who insists, repeatedly, that he wants only “what Ted wants.” Snarls Donna, “Grow a pair.” Ted, for his part, is unequivocal: Babies are bacteria-laden Petri dishes.

Although the topic is serious, Beguelin overloads his too-lengthy, two-act play with comic banter, which director Ed Decker emphasizes to such a degree that the characters’ very real concerns receive short shrift. Ted’s anti-kids tirades are overdramatized for the audience’s amusement, as are Kevin’s drunken lurches and Donna’s varying attitudes of perky inanity, sarcastic hostility and rage.

Thus the characters, especially Terri Whipple’s Donna and teenage actress Jenna Herz’s Lottie, seem like caricatures. Andrew Nance’s loving but condescending Ted and Scott Cox’s vulnerable Kevin fare better; Cox is particularly poignant in his confusion.

But in the repetitive and often contrived dialogue, you can too frequently hear Beguelin—a Tony nominee for books and score for several musicals _ trying to be clever at the expense of the characters’ authenticity. Why, for example, would a self-professed ignoramus like Donna say, “You make Charles Nelson Reilly sound like the Marlboro Man!”?

Still, as the play continues, things do take a convincingly complex turn, with an ending that is unpredictable yet organic. 

  REVIEW

Harbor

Presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center

Where: 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 1

Tickets: $25 to $45

Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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