Aisle View: In Search of a Safe (Sag) Harbor

08/07/2013 10:59 am ET | Updated Oct 07, 2013

A harbor, according to old man Webster, is a protected port, a place of safety and security offering shelter for weary wanderers. Sag Harbor, the quaint village off Gardiner's Bay near the Eastern tip of New York's Long Island, was a major whaling port during the first half of the nineteenth century and today offers shelter to vacation homers who find the neighboring towns of South and East Hampton too upper East Side-y.

Chad Beguelin's warm and funny Harbor is about a gay couple living in a perfectly-designed Greek revival bungalow in Sag Harbor that looks like a wedding cake. Their protected shelter is invaded by a pair of weary wanderers traveling by rusty van, rather than a leaky boat, in severe need of harbor. One of whom, it turns out, develops into something of a whale herself. Primary Stages brought the play into 59E59 last night, through September 8 -- although there is likely enough of an audience to warrant an extended off-Broadway transfer. Mark Lamos does a fine job directing the production, which was initially mounted last September at the Westport Country Playhouse with the design team intact and half the present cast.

Donna is "poor white Christmas trash," homeless and headed back from a dead-end job singing with a Bar Mitzvah band in San Francisco; she was fired when she stole the Rabbi's wallet. She turns up searching for safe harbor at the Sag Harbor abode of her younger brother Kevin, with nothing to show for her thirty-five years besides said derelict van (which smells like unwashed feet). Also in tow is 15-year-old Lottie, who reads Edith Wharton and is more intelligent even than Ted, the upper class architect Kevin has married. Plus, we learn as the intended one-night-visit extends, Donna has a second child very much on the way. She took a pregnancy test "in the toilet of a Long John Silver's."

Over the course of three months, we find that Donna (Erin Cummings) is as churlish -- and stupidly racist -- as she at first seems; Kevin (Randy Harrison), despite the clothing and trappings provided by Ted's checkbook, is at heart as immature and lost as his blustery sister; and that Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart) is deeply conflicted, struggling with a downturn in his career and the reality that his husband need be nurtured like a lost child. Lottie (Alexis Molnar), meanwhile, is the adult on stage, although we don't quite get how the homeless/fatherless daughter of Donna and niece of Kevin can be so self-assured.

The play examines parenthood of various varieties, maternal and otherwise. Is the new, modern-day gay family incomplete without children? Beguelin ponders this and other related topics, a viewpoint that makes Harbor different and refreshing. The action gets tied up in the question of whether the Sag Harbor couple should adopt the baby, and I'm afraid that the author gets somewhat tangled along the way.

(Spoilers here: Ted ponders paying Donna $35,000 -- "a double-wide trailer, after taxes" -- as a surrogate payment for her child. Only he wants Lottie instead of the unborn baby. Is there something unseemly about a grown man buying a teenage girl? Would it change matters if Ted was a straight -- rather than gay -- character?)

It is difficult to offer your typical "the cast was generally fine" in this case due to a problem: Ms. Molnar, who originated the role of Lottie in Westport and is here making her New York debut, is so good that you miss her whenever the author sends her into the wings so the others can discuss adult stuff. The role itself is well-written, yes, but the 18-year-old Molnar offers a performance of pure delight, making her character and her predicament seem true. Stewart, as the architect, does well in the second act, when he finally gets some real scenes to act. Cummings and Harrison, the newcomers for the New York production, give enjoyable performances although they can't quite mask inconsistencies in the dramaturgy.

Beguelin, who charmed New Yorkers with his lyrics for the holiday favorite Elf while earlier providing book and lyrics for the less felicitous Wedding Singer, clearly has a good nature, a strong sense of humor, and a way with words. Harbor is charming and disarming, dealing with issues contemporary enough to allow the playwright to explore something new and different. If the ending leaves some viewers scratching their heads, they will be doing so after two hours of enjoyment.