“One of the best benefits of being gay, aside from the really great taste in window treatments, is that kids aren’t expected to be part of the equation. When did that change?,” asks an exasperated gay man during a riotous tirade about entitled mothers and their precious brats.
That’s just one of the nagging questions put forth in “Harbor,” Chad Beguelin’s domestic drama about a married couple, the seemingly happily hyphenated Ted (the exasperated one) and Kevin Adams-Weller. They are forced to re-examine their too-comfy lives when Kevin’s estranged down-and-out sister, Donna, along with her precocious 15-year old daughter, Lottie, come for a surprise extended visit.
The wickedly insightful piece, courtesy of Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters, offers a piercing look at nontraditional family dynamics and the rapidly evolving roles of gays in America.
And while the title refers to Sag Harbor, the impossibly quaint village on the South Fork of Long Island where the pair resides in a stately, obsessively restored house (handsomely articulated by set designer Andrew Jackness), it also suggests the safe refuge the couple offers Donna and Lottie. It’s not a stretch to say it also refers to the bitter resentments the characters harbor toward one another. Which, naturally, find their angry way to the surface.
The four-person ensemble, directed with flair by Mark Lamos, is somewhat uneven. Fans of “Queer as Folk” will recognize Randy Harrison as Kevin, an aspiring writer who, at first, is happy to let his husband call the shots. The blond Harrison, who has impressively shed his “ultimate twink” persona — and gained a few pounds of muscle — is perfectly cast as the partner who discovers he has the power to escape the deeply etched rut he’s somehow fallen into. Harrison, 35, has moved beyond his background as a television actor, honing his skills on a variety of shows on and off Broadway, including “Wicked,” “Silence!: The Musical,” and “The Singing Forest.”
Paul Anthony Stewart, perhaps best known for his Emmy-nominated turn in “Guiding Light,” is no stranger to the stage, appearing in shows like “The People in the Picture” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” His self-assured Ted, whose once bustling architecture firm is now on shaky ground, manages to be alternately appealing and galling. When the cocktails flow and he unleashes his anti-kid rant, his gradual inebriation is so convincing it’s hard to believe there’s not real vodka in his martini glass.
As the foul-mouthed sister, Erin Cummings has a tough time balancing Donna’s crassness, cleverness, and sensitivity. During intermission, I checked the program and was not surprised to learn that her television credits (“Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” “Nip/ Tuck,” “Mad Men”) far outweigh her theatrical work. “Harbor” marks her New York stage debut.
To be fair, Cummings is occasionally required to deliver lines ill-suited to Donna’s white-trash personality (she uses the word “vicariously” and says smoking weed is good for anxious writers because it “calms the inner critic.”) What’s more, despite the intended chasm between Donna and Kevin, I did not completely believe they were siblings.
The play’s most impressive turn is delivered by Alexis Molnar. She nails Lottie’s frustration at having to swap mother-daughter roles with the childish Donna. Lottie’s wise-beyond-her-years insights and zingers feel totally natural. Despite being “van-schooled” (they move around too much for Lottie to attend a real school), she is far brighter than the adults onstage. Molnar makes it completely believable that Lottie is reading — and digesting — Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth.”
Beguelin’s script is at its best when observing defining comic quirks of gay men, which are often deliciously over-the-top. After inviting Donna and Lottie to spend the night, Kevin cautions they need to avoid a “Blanche DuBois situation.” The husbands promise fruit tarts for breakfast. The bathrooms are stocked with “guest loofahs.”
To be sure, the supremely entertaining “Harbor” largely feels like a frothy television sitcom, yet there’s just enough meat on its bones to satisfy the serious theatergoer.
HARBOR | 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St. | Through Sep. 8; Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $70 at 59E59.org or 212-279-4200