Cracks in the Homo-American Dream

8.14.2013

By Jerry Portwood

Chad Beguelin's 'Harbor' reveals the unspoken schism in some gay men's relationships

Photo by Carol Rosegg

The gay couple at the center of Harbor (currently playing at 59E59 Theaters in New York City) seem to have perfect preppy lives. Ted (Paul Anthony Stewart), a semi-successful architect of boring LEED-certified renovations, is a bit older than his hyphenated-husband Kevin (Randy Harrison), a wannabe writer, who spends most of his time being the perfect young trophy husband ensconced in their in their posh Sag Harbor house. "It's exactly as Norman Rockwell would have painted it," playwright Chad Beguelin explains. "It's the perfect all-American town"—which means the storm must be brewing just over the horizon.

Everything seems to be going well for the DINKS, however, until Kevin's "white Christmas trash" sister Donna (Erin Cummings) shows up on their doorstep with her precocious teen daughter Lottie (Alexis Molnar) and a bun in the oven. Eventually we learn that Donna wants to pressure her sweet, lil bro to adopt her unwanted progeny and raise it in his Hamptons paradise rather than in the van where she and her daughter currently reside. But Ted makes it brutally clear early on he has no interest in parenting with his rant about "entitled parents" with their "doublewide strollers" and the way "they think they should go first in line at the airport or supermarket or anywhere else on the planet..." So when Kevin eventually says he wants to adopt his unborn nephew to raise, well, all hell breaks loose.

The play was originally staged in Westport, Conn., a year ago with director Mark Lamos playing it for laughs to his sophisticated patrons. Now, Lamos has found the darker lining for the New York City run. "In Westport, where I'm artistic director, it felt like a very fresh idea," Lamos explains. "But a year later, we've already made so many advances, and there were shows on TV like The New Normal and Partners. Never in my lifetime did I imagine we'd be here. But then someone said to me, 'This isn't about being gay, it's about being a parent,' which is an absolute universal issue. And I realized, it's not really about being a gay couple but much more."

With same-sex marriage in the air, many men and women have recently felt the pressure to tie the knot as well as start a family—something they previously felt privileged from having to deal with. Beguelin admits that there are tinges of autobiography in the play's couple, explaining that he was once asked by a lesbian friend if he would donate his sperm so they could conceive, and he quickly answered yes. "When I told my partner Tom, he said, 'Are you crazy!' That began the real conversation of whether we wanted to have kids," he says. "It was long and drawn out, so parallels between the two guys in the play and me and Tom are there."

Ultimately, the most unsettling moment in the play for many longterm couples who may see themselves mirrored in the handsome duo comes late in the second act when the gender/power roles in the relationship between Kevin and Ted are named and discussed. Not to give too much away, but the relationship has a clear breadwinner and a dependent, something that all-too-often becomes a contentious issue in any relationship—gay or straight.

The fact that Randy Harrison is playing Kevin—the younger, more "childlike" or "infantalized" spouse, as Beguelin describes him—is a bit of genius casting since the majority of audience members will remember him from his role on Queer as Folk a decade earlier, who Michael Musto recently termed the "ultimate twink" for his role as Justin on the bellwether Showtime hit. "I'm finally starting to look like an adult," Harrison admits, "I was playing 12 year olds since I was 27." Harrison—who says his longest romantic relationship lasted six-and-half-years—was interested in the central conflict in this relationship. "It's that dynamic between the two men—you end up falling into those habits," he says, "especially if your partner likes that role, likes being the caretaker."

Ultimately it's this broader message—how does one person maintain his independence in a loving, sharing relationship—that relates to people across all genders and backgrounds that made the team realize that Harbor is more than a topical bit of theater. "I hope it's not a message piece," Beguelin says. "It's about real people, and it has lots of laughs. It's surprising that it's been happening along with the Supreme Court decisions. I guess it makes the two guys in the play legitimately married. But ultimately it's abou treal relationships and family."

Primary Stages production of 'Harbor' continues through September 8 at 59E59 Theaters.

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