“Kids ruin your life,” says Ted Adams-Weller, a well-groomed, self-satisfied architect at the centre of Harbor, an initially annoying, eventually satisfying new play by Chad Beguelin. “When you have kids you’re immortal,” counters Donna Adams, an erstwhile entertainer who has arrived unannounced at the glossy Sag Harbor, New York, home that Ted shares with Donna’s wannabe-writer brother, Kevin, given a sensitive performance by Randy Harrison.
Whether to make or adopt children is a perennial topic, and the fact that the discussion in this two-act evening involves a gay couple doesn’t especially lend it a fresh spin. What elevates Harbor from brittle sitcom to more unsettling story is the presence of Lottie, the 15-year-old daughter of Donna and a long-ago one-night stand.
Living an intensely itinerant life with her mother in a broken-down van, Lottie seeks refuge in literature. When the play opens she is burrowing into Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, whose heroine, Lily Bart, speaks to her sense of jumbled unhappiness. Given just the right amount of defiance by the terrific Alexis Molnar, Lottie yearns for her father, but when, in the play’s most touching scene, she finally acquires his phone number and rings him up, the outcome isn’t what she’d imagined.
That Lottie, dark-haired and prone to wearing oversized T-shirts, doesn’t physically resemble her mother – portrayed by Erin Cummings as red-haired and wearing platforms and too-tight clothes that only call attention to her age – reinforces the daughter’s feeling of difference. Given her bookish inclinations, Lottie should bond with her uncle, whose work-in-progress novel is supposedly Proustian. Instead, Lottie forges a connection with Ted, played commandingly by Paul Anthony Stewart. Wowed by the well-appointed home he has assembled, she is soon initiating him into the pleasures of McDonald’s, although I found it strange, if defensible in terms of staging, that their fast-food scene ended with Ted, a neatness freak, failing to clear away the refuse.
That moment was one of the few head-scratchers in Mark Lamos’s simple, effective production. He and the actors steer us through the fallout from the evening’s turning point: Donna reveals she is pregnant, and wants Kevin and Ted to rear the child. Until that moment, the play’s three adults were complaining. Suddenly, they are filled with feeling. But not so much that Lottie can’t deflate it. “I love you,” her mum says. “Whatever,” Lottie answers.