Directed by Mark Lamos
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred (troubled). While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” – Gospel of John 5:2-8
It is difficult to encounter Chad Berguelin’s “Harbor” and not utilize significant critical psychological-mythological strategies for viewing and understanding his exceptional new play which is currently running at 59E59 Theaters as the first installment in Primary Stages’ new season. “Harbor” is all about family dysfunction, the condition agonizing the Adams and Adams-Weller families “for a long time” (see above).
All the characters in Mr. Berguelin’s drama are in some fashion “disabled” and assiduously waiting for a “savior:” someone to heal them, transform them, and lead them to healing stirred-up waters. “Harbor” is at its core a parable about choices and the healing which results from making right choices. Donna Adams (Erin Cummings) knows it is time “to get well.” She needs help into the healing pool because she is pregnant, living in a filthy van with her fifteen-year-old daughter Lottie (Alexis Molnar), and hanging onto an unrealistic dream of success as a cruise ship performer. Lottie needs help into the healing pool before her addictive mother further destroys her chance for a future. Donna drops in on her brother Kevin (Randy Harrison) and his husband Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart) admitting she “screwed up” and wants the couple to adopt her unborn child so he/she will have the “best” of opportunities. Kevin and Ted need help into the healing pool to provide surcease for their fractured and codependent relationship which has infantilized Kevin and rendered Ted useless professionally.
Kevin has learned to “want what Ted wants” and “not to rock the boat.” Randy Harrison and Paul Anthony Stewart breathe a significant quantum of authenticity and passion into these two characters balancing a relationship based, sadly, on deception and patronization. When Ted discovers that Kevin has been discussing adoption with Donna, Ted unveils his belief that he “already has a kid.” Erin Cummings provides a persuasive performance as a sibling who has learned to be manipulative and militant in her attempt to survive the curse of codependence as the child of abusive parents. And Alexis Molnar delivers the play’s bravura performance. Ms. Molnar gives the audience a penetrating glimpse into the life of a teenager struggling with the eventualities of survival and identity and the meaning of love. Ms. Molnar’s Lottie knows she teeters on the brink of placement in a foster home and she will do whatever it takes to maintain her freedom.
Donna’s visit results in all of the characters in “Harbor” having the “brick of truth” dropped on them. Donna’s decision (despite her ulterior motives) to visit Kevin and Ted (to find safe harbor) unhinges the extended family’s dysfunction and permanently alters the dynamics of the family system. Mr. Beguelin’s script develops these four rich and well-rounded characters and provides them with believable and engaging conflicts which drive an authentic and convincing plot. Under Mark Lamos’ thoughtful and respectful direction, “Harbor’s” cast exquisitely brings healing resolution and catharsis to their conflicts and the plot they drive. They move from co-dependence to the beginnings of independence. Everyone, it seems, has found their place of stillness and has begun a sincere coming of age journey. Ted and Lottie begin a father-daughter relationship based on respect and parity. And Kevin and Donna begin an epic voyage on rediscovery of self and a future without the threat of self-annihilation and vapid codependence.