Dallas — In The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost’s hardheaded old farmer days, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Maybe; maybe not.
In Chad Beguelin’s 2012 off-Broadway comedy Harbor, having a regional premiere by Uptown Players, homeless pothead Donna (a blonde, constantly calculating Cara Statham Serber) and her “Asian-smart” 15-year-old daughter Lottie (a touching, charismatic Kennedy Waterman) hone in on the posh Sag Harbor home of Donna’s gay brother Kevin (boyish grinmeister Kevin Moore) and his well-to-do architect husband Ted (confident, groomed Chad Peterson), driving the beat-up VW van they live in—and seeking a little harbor themselves.
Director Coy Covington, a master of comic timing and nuance, takes us right inside the funky van and into the house with Clare Floyd Devries’ wide, handsome set, complete with versatile 10-foot screens projecting malls or mansions framing the center stage set. (Beguelin, who also wrote the book and/or lyrics for the musicals Aladdin, The Wedding Singer and Elf, requires quick scene shifts here, as well.)
Meanwhile, inside the light-filled, tastefully decorated Casa Ted-Kevin, the contented, cutie-pie guys, both wearing tight designer jeans, are discussing coffee flavors and the possibility of a brochure assignment for underemployed writer Kevin, whose “Proustian” novel is years in the making and still unfinished. Ted’s business is slowing, but he assures his partner of 10 years that it’s all under control, and they can still travel, dine out and do all the things that make Kevin happy. Except a dog. No, Kevie, no dog on thick, neutral-toned carpets and expensive furniture.
Into this gay male relationship where one man is the breadwinner and decision-maker, and the other smiles happily, plops Kevin’s high-flyin’, low-life sister, a woman with the morals of an alley cat and a serious potty-mouth affliction—especially when referencing sex. Yikes.
It’s clear from the moment she assesses the “wedding cake” house Kevin occupies, that down-but-hard-as-hell-to-get-out Donna has more on her mind than just a visit with the brother she hasn’t seen in a decade. Right away, she starts telling her baby bro how empty his life is, how hollow and meaningless, because, despite his apparent comfort and pleasure, he doesn’t have the really deep-down joy of children to raise—and the comfort they provide in old age.
This from a woman who sings for weed, gives hand jobs to pay for dental work, and calls her only daughter “bee-otch” in a stupid attempt to hold her own with cool, rational, real parent Lottie. Turns out, she has ulterior motives, which sets up a domino effect of shifting roles and alliances.
There’s more than ranting and jokes about balls and bottoms going on in this play, but most of it happens in the second act, when push comes to take-this-truth-and-shove-it. Honest-bombs are delivered to dramatic effect—and we see there’s more to each character than a quip about babies being “petri dishes,” or all foster parents being “morbidly obese.” The outcome of all these revelations feels forced, but, like a New Yorker short story, ambiguous enough that it may not be the final act for these characters.
Covington keeps his sharp cast focused on the revelation of character, resisting any tempting collapse into stereotype—and delivering their punch lines with panache.
Moore and Peterson are a totally cool gay couple, in their briefs flossing and brushing before bedtime, or holding it together emotionally in the middle of a “open kimono” moment—a “business term” Ted uses to describe getting down to the real deal. Moore can even blush on cue, and Peterson, shockingly, can cry.
Serber’s Donna is the perfect nightmare mother, hilariously sniffing the smoke from a joint she produces for Kevin to smoke, and excusing her failures as a genetic inheritance. After all, her mother was a “drunken whore” and so was her grandma.
Waterman, a teenager who has won a Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Forum award for her 2013 performance at Fun House Theatre and Film, is hilarious and moving as the snarky, lonely, literate Lottie. An experienced improv artist, Waterman lands her jokes in perfect sync with her veteran troupe members. Her brave scene on the phone trying to get in touch with a father she’s never met is suddenly wrenching. You feel that phone hang up through the tough girl’s melting eyes.
Sag Harbor is on a Google map. Safe harbor, not so easy to find.