SF Playhouse’s production of ‘Harper Regan’ goes astray 

Imagine you’re a depressed fortysomething wife and mother with a rebellious teenage daughter, a serious marital issue, an unemployed husband, no friends in the new town you’ve been forced to move to, a job you don’t like, financial worries, a mother you’re estranged from and a weird, gabby boss who says he’ll fire you if you take time off to go visit your dying dad in the hospital.

Whatever you might conceivably do under those dire circumstances is probably far from what Harper Regan, the titular character in British playwright Simon Stephens’ offbeat drama, actually ends up doing.

The central problem with “Harper Regan,” which premiered in London in 2008 and is now getting its West Coast premiere at SF Playhouse, is that while we can sometimes understand what Harper is feeling — she rages and sobs and occasionally tells other characters her convoluted thoughts — it’s hard to understand why she does the peculiar things she does.

Her explanations for her behavior are elliptical and strange, but not in a captivating or revelatory way.

Harper’s journey, from troubled family relationships to some sort of tentative inner peace, is an unpredictable one.

She leaves home for two days without telling her family where she’s going, arrives at the hospital too late to say goodbye to her father, confronts her mother, has erotic and quasi-erotic encounters along the way, commits a violent act and faces some uncomfortable truths.

But she herself seems more like a theatrical construct than a real woman; her life circumstances feel contrived and her reactions don’t ring true.

There are other script problems that are also beyond director Amy Glazer’s purview to solve: Characters are locked into scenes with nothing to do, well beyond where they should have departed; strangers make overly personal confessions without convincing motivation; and extraneous dialogue, which aims to create texture and social context, somehow misses the mark.

Not that the ensemble cast, with most of the actors playing two roles, doesn’t do its best to imbue Stephens’ lengthy script with verisimilitude.

As Harper, Susi Damilano conveys a full and emotionally connected inner life, and her scenes with Monique Hafen as her saucy daughter, Joy Carlin as her mother, Michael Keys Hall as an uneasy one-night-stand and Daniel Redmond as a teenage loner demonstrate the company’s strengths. But they can’t make this play ring true.


Harper Regan

Presented by SF Playhouse

533 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes March 5

Tickets: $30 to $45

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

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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