by Jim Gladstone
There’s a single scene in Chad Beguelin’s Harbor, making its west coast debut at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center, that plays with a vital ferocity that’s radically different from the rest of the show: the gay couple at the center of the plot Ted (Andrew Nance) and Kevin (Scott Cox) reconnect in the parking lot of a Carvel Ice Cream shop after Andrew has stormed out of their tony Sag Harbor, Long Island home in the midst of an argument over adopting a baby. At first, it appears that the each of the men want to smooth things over, but Ted, the older and more financially secure of the pair, unexpectedly rips away from the broad sitcom tone that marks the bulk of this production with a wicked, vitriolic tirade.
In a dressing-down that’s as cruel in its delivery as it is honest in its content, architect Ted excoriates Kevin, an unproductive would-be writer, for his lack of focus and income. Nance’s raw intensity here is a jaw-dropping shift from the exaggeratedly fey comic mannerisms he employs through the bulk of the show. It’s as if a scene by Edward Albee was slipped into an episode of Full House. And it proves an irreversible moment, both in the characters’ relationship as well as the relationship between the audience and the play.
Until this conflict, Harbor serves as a middling, amusing-enough entertainment, a broadly written domestic comedy, in which Kevin’s conniving, bohemian sister Donna (Teri Whipple) arrives unexpectedly and expectantly, showing up at the men’s home with a 15-year-old daughter, a third trimester pregnancy, and no intention of decamping until the well-to-do gays agree to raise her unborn child. We’re off to the races with zingy one-liners full of tried-and-true A-gay clichés (stylish housewares! fancy vacations!), yuppie parenting clichés (double-wide strollers that hog the sidewalks!), and teenager-who’s-more-responsible-than-a-parent clichés.
But the Carvel meltdown, which comes about 20 minutes before Harbor’s end, sticks out like a gold thumb, inadvertently underscoring how pat and pallid everything that’s come before has been. It’s written and performed with such insight and conviction that you wish you could rewind and watch that play from the beginning. And while the few subsequent scenes work to maintain the authenticity of this climax, they wobble tonally, ultimately proving too little, too late. Director Ed Decker and his cast are largely hamstrung by playwright Beguelin’s stylistic inconsistency.
Beguelin, a current Tony nominee for the book and lyrics of Aladdin, has the writing chops and psychological perceptiveness to craft an honest, acid-etched dramedy about gay relationship dynamics. But only a tantalizing glimpse of that work can be seen here, harbored away alongside a sea of frothy formula.
New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Avenue at Market Street, San Francisco
Through March 1
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.