Family jealousy, class resentment and several different flavors of heartbreak come together in Chad Beguelin’s compelling 2013 play “Harbor,” which opened Friday night in a Buffalo United Artists production in the Alleyway Theatre.
Described by BUA founder Javier Bustillos as “one of the first plays to present two [legally] married men as its central characters,” the story concerns the 10-year relationship between Sag Harbor couple Kevin and Ted (Matthew Crehan Higgins and Rick Lattimer) and its potential disintegration at the hands of Kevin’s alcoholic sister Donna (Kerrykate Abel). When she arrives unannounced with her teenage daughter Lottie (Sabrina Kahwaty) in tow, like Rosanne Arnold suddenly arriving on the set of “The Cherry Orchard,” the cracks in Kevin and Ted’s superficially picture-perfect relationship begin to show.
From the play’s first scene, which takes place in the van where Donna and Lottie are living while en route to her brother’s opulent house in the Hamptons, it’s clear that Beguelin’s smart and consistently funny writing will be its central appeal. Characters don’t come a great deal more compelling than Donna, who can barely conceal her ire for the success and stability her brother and his partner have achieved in life and takes every aspect of that success as a personal insult.
“Everything is going to be very over the top and we’re going to be very jealous,” Donna says to her precocious daughter as they pull into Sag Harbor. She speculates that they have a computer that doubles as a cappuccino-maker, that every meal they make is required to include some kind of tart.
Kevin and Ted are clearly hanging on by a thread even before Donna rolls into town. Kevin is a struggling writer who can’t finish his 10-year-old novel, while Ted supports him with a high-pressure architecture career that’s becoming more tenuous by the day.
The main conflict is over children. Kevin wants kids, but Ted is violently opposed to the notion.
“Let’s be real,” he tells Kevin at one point. “Our hatred of children is what brought us together.”
Turns out that wasn’t the case, and tough decisions need to be made.
While the plot is a touch hackneyed and the characters don’t quite reach their three-dimensional potential, Beguelin’s smart dialogue, filled with keen and often lacerating humor, makes the evening compelling. He expertly weaves together complex concerns such as the need for a stable home, the fears and insecurities people project upon their children and the difficulty of coming to terms with relationship problems hidden in plain sight.
Aside from a few creaky moments and an ending scene that needs work, director Todd Fuller has kept the comedy on point and on pace through most of the evening. He has an able cast to work with, led by an extraordinarily over-the-top Abel as the freewheeling Donna and an excellent stage debut from the young Kahwaty, whose performance as a teen letting out pent up frustration is cause for its own bouts of applause.
The interaction between Lattimer and Higgins is somewhat strained, which works to the production’s benefits in some scenes but against it in others. Even so, each of them has standout moments and a keen sense of comic timing essential to the play.
Flaws and all, Beguelin’s script and this smart production should do much to dispel the myth that gay married couples or the families they come from are any different from the rest of America. He shows us that’s neither cause for sadness nor celebration. It’s just the truth.
Where: Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley
When: Through May 9
Tickets: $15 to $25
Info: 886-9239 or buffalobua.org