'Harbor' director Greg Leaming shares insights on the playwright’s sharp, smart, subversive take on American life.
As its summer season ends, the Dog Days Theatre is coming into harbor. Chad Beguelin’s “Harbor,” that is. Greg Leaming is directing, and he’s loving every minute of it. And why not? The play flows out of a solid-gold comic premise. Kevin and Ted are a happily married couple enjoying the good life in Sag Harbor on Long Island. But everything changes when the dark side of American life comes knocking on their door. The couple’s safe harbor is invaded when Kevin’s dysfunctional sister, Donna, and his precocious 15-year-old niece, Lottie, drop in for a surprise visit. They stay the night — and the next few months. Then Donna makes a surprising request that rattles the foundations of Ted and Kevin’s relationship. The results are hilarious.
How would you describe the play?
Wickedly funny but also very tricky. I mean that in the sense of audience expectations. The play starts out like a traditional situation comedy. Then it takes a hard left turn into deeply personal territory. It suddenly becomes very real and heartfelt.
So, it’s a bit of misdirection from Beguelin. He leads you to expect a fluffy sitcom, then hits you with heavy issues.
That’s a good way put it. Beguelin is a very sneaky playwright.
What are some of the heavy issues at play?
There’s a wonderful collision between a straight, working class woman and an upscale, gay couple. They’ve got their act together; Donna most certainly does not. She’s rude, crude, politically incorrect and anti-intellectual. To complicate matters, she’s essentially homeless and living in a van with her brilliant daughter, Lottie — who’s basically the adult in that mother-daughter relationship. Donna’s lifestyle is the antithesis of everything Ted and Kevin hold dear in life. There’s an inevitable clash of values -— or a clash between values and a lack of values. That conflict reaches a boiling point when Kevin and Ted discover that Donna is pregnant, and she wants them to adopt her child.
Is that what they want?
Exactly. They’re forced to confront that question as a couple. Kevin was always looking forward to a life without kids. Now he has to ask himself, “Is that lifestyle what I really want?” For Ted, there’s no question about it. The answer is a definite no.
He didn’t sign up for that.
Right. They’re no longer thinking: “What do we want as a couple?” They’re each thinking: “What do I want?”
So, they’re forced to reexamine their relationship.
They really have to examine all the big questions: “What is their place in the world? What are their responsibilities? What do they want out of life? What is the meaning of family?” Everything’s on the table, and it’s gripping.
The prospect of raising a child will do that to any couple..
True. But Beguelin is clearly speaking to the gay experience in contemporary America. A gay, married couple has only recently become the legal and social norm. It’s now [mostly] acceptable for gay couples to adopt children. Kevin embraced his gayness and gay life because it was a life where he’d never have to deal with kids. Now that’s all changed. A gay couple can now live a life exactly like a hetero couple. Does he want that? I think the play is really dancing around that issue.
Chad Beguelin is a big name in American musical theater, with six Tony Award nominations to his credit. Is he going outside his wheelhouse to do a play without music?
I don’t think so. You can still see Beguelin’s subversive sense of humor and his deep, personal connection to the material. This is definitely his voice.
How would you describe your journey with the actors?
It’s been an absolute pleasure. They’re all outstanding talents with their own strengths. Summer Dawn Wallace (Donna) is a graduate of the conservatory program; Jen Diaz (Lottie) is a young actor based in Orlando; they both brought amazing depth to their roles. And I really enjoy working with Creg Sclavi (Ted) and Marc Bitler (Kevin), who are two amazingly talented students in the third year of the conservatory program. That’s the nice thing about Dog Days. It’s a real code switch for them. Instead of a student-teacher relationship, they move to a professional-professional relationship.
The training wheels are off.
It’s fun that way. Putting [Beguelin’s] vision on stage has been a total delight.