Great drama is found, most often, not in the lines the actors speak or in the sound and fury they unleash onstage. No, great drama reveals itself in silence, dreaded silence, when those in the audience peer into the souls of the characters onstage and by doing so look truthfully into their own souls, warts and all.
More than just warts are revealed in Chad Beguelin’s fine new play, “Harbor,” currently playing at 59E59 Theaters in New York.
Ostensibly set in Sag Harbor, “Harbor” thrusts us into the world of an apparently happily married gay couple, Kevin (Randy Harrison) and Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart). They appear to be a true union, right down to their hyphenated last name, never spoken onstage but listed in the program as “Adams-Weller.”
Kevin is a writer. He has been working on the same book for 10 years. Ted is the breadwinner, a fairly successful architect. He tends to speak in corporate jargon.
The couple’s wedding cake life is invaded by Kevin’s homeless weed-smoking misfit sister, Donna (Erin Cummings), and her brilliant 15-year-old daughter, Lottie (Alexis Molnar).
Lottie reads Virginia Woolf. Donna thinks a misogynist is someone who gives massages. The two are their own couple, diving across America in a dirty van, spitting and fighting throughout.
Lottie, who feels trapped in her relationship with her mother, is a voracious reader.
“What are you reading now?” Donna asks her, early in the play, as she drives.
“ ‘The House of Mirth,’ ” is the answer.
“Is it funny?”
“Hilarious,” Lottie replies sardonically.
Mr. Beguelin is a master of our language, and of human nature. He finds the nuances in the interaction between the characters that, on one hand, make the audience laugh, while on the other, create an air of discomfort.
There is a lyricism in his writing that is compelling. Not surprising, since he is a theatrical lyricist. He understands the sound of the contemporary language, as spoken by real people.
Donna has driven them to Sag Harbor to visit her brother, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years, since their mother’s funeral. She has a secret, one that is central to the plot, which she soon reveals: She is pregnant.
As children of an alcoholic mother, Donna and Kevin clung to each other for shelter growing up. Now, she exploits that familial knowledge with one goal in mind — to get the couple to adopt her baby.
She knows, in her heart, that Kevin wants to be a “mommy,” and she is more than happy to make that desire a reality.
But a baby is the last thing that Ted would want in his neat, planned, controlled world. As Kevin says early in the play, “Ted hates babies. He thinks they all should be baked into pies.”
The cast is superb.
The part of Donna, played by Ms. Cummings, is the engine that drives this play. Ms. Cummings plays it with an ease and aplomb that brings a desperate, sad sense of truth to the character.
She is making her New York stage debut in “Harbor.” I hope she likes the feel of a New York stage, because, judging from her preview performance last Thursday, she will be a regular there, if the nasty film business doesn’t steal her away.
The other three players are equally adept.
Paul Anthony Stewart, no stranger to the New York stage, gives the audience a very real man who has to control everything. There are moments that the character is hateful, but Mr. Stewart plays it with a deep sense of humanity, so he is never cartoonish. Sadly, there is a bit of him in all of us.
That is true of all four characters.
There is another moment, early in the play, when Kevin describes the plot of his book to Lottie, who recognizes it as that of a Virginia Woolf work. It is a telling moment, in which we realize that Kevin will never finish his novel, or even the pamphlet he is writing for the historical society.
Mr. Harrison plays this character without ever seeking sympathy from the audience. Instead, he peels away the skin of the onion, until he gets to the heart of the matter, and the realization of what he needs to do.
The same can be said for the wonderful Alexis Molnar. She moves us without ever pushing the matter. She feels out of place among her peers. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to explain malapropism to them,” she says at one point.
She captures perfectly the awkwardness, and pathos, of the character.
If Donna is the engine that drives “Harbor” onstage, then Mark Lamos is the engine that is driving the production behind the scenes.
This is the second production of this play. The first was last year at the Westport Country Playhouse. Mr. Lamos has clearly been mentoring this piece, something he has done often in his illustrious career.
He has put together a superb cast, as well as an excellent design team. Andrew Jackness’s set is perfectly partnered with Japhy Weidman’s lighting design, allowing extreme flexibility for the author and the players. Candice Donnelly’s costume design is a wonderful study in contrasts, capturing the preppy fastidiousness of Ted and Kevin’s world and the wild, natural grunge of Donna’s.
One wardrobe quibble, which must be a directorial choice: At that moment when Kevin decides to throw in with Donna, he leaves the stage wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt with matching shorts and returns in some grungy outfit. Really? Did he run out and scoop up Goodwill’s rejects? It’s hard to imagine anything like that would be in his bureau drawers.
I have another quibble with this wonderful production: the setting. This play should be set in East Hampton Village, not Sag Harbor Village. It’s one thing for Donna to call Sag Harbor “the heart of the Hamptons,” as she does early in the play. She doesn’t know it simply is not.
I know Kevin and Ted very well. There are plenty of couples just like them.
Come a few miles down Route 114, Mr. Beguelin and Mr. Lamos, and your wonderful play will truly be situated in the “heart of the Hamptons.”
Mr. Beguelin skillfully takes us on a journey of laughter and sadness. Toward the end of the play, he seems to offer an obvious ending, but I imagine he does so with a smile, knowing all along that he has a 2-by-4 of a final twist hidden behind his back. At the end, he smacks us with that 2-by-4, right in the gut, leaving his characters — and the audience — in silence, much wiser, but infinitely more alone.
“Harbor” is produced by Primary Stages and is playing at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan until Sept. 8. Running time is about two hours, with a 15-minute intermission included.