A tight, quippy, gay-centric stage comedy like Chad Beguelin’s Harbor fits snugly at Uptown Players, where the 2012 play is getting its regional premiere in Kalita Humphreys Theater. Director Coy Covington has cast four actors so good they clearly outclass the so-so script.
Uptown leading man Kevin Moore plays Kevin, a soft-spoken, stay-home writer who doesn’t do much writing; Chad Peterson is his husband Ted, a successful architect with definite ideas about how to build a life (no kids, no pets). Cara Statham Serber sweeps her pretty hair into a messy up-do as trash-mouthed Donna, Kevin’s no-good sister; her book-smart daughter Lottie is played by 14-year-old Fun House theater star Kennedy Waterman.
The play has such quick shifts of scene — it starts inside Donna’s funky VW van as she and Lottie chug into Sag Harbor to surprise Uncle Kev with an unannounced visit — that it feels less like a play and more like a spec script for a Logo channel series. Covington and scenic artist Clare Floyd DeVries solve that problem by splashing projections of mall shops, village streets and other locales on big screens next to the Pottery Barn-perfect living room inside Kevin and Ted’s two-story clapboard-sided house.
Thrown together in a tense family reunion that goes DefCon One almost immediately, Kevin and Donna rehash old family feuds while Ted tensely pours cocktails and Lottie reads Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. “She’s, like, Asian-smart,” brags Donna, adding, “It’s not racist if it’s a compliment, right?”
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Donna smokes weed, calls Lottie “bee-yotch” (which makes the kid wince) and talks about giving hand jobs. When she drops a shocking truth-bomb on her brother, his 10-year relationship with Ted — “Hey, that’s like 53 years for straight people,” says Donna — starts to quake. If only someone in this family would notice that Lottie is not just smart but lonely and yearning for stability in her life. Just don’t make her live with “morbidly obese” foster parents, she begs the guys.
Waterman, who’ll soon play Linda Loman to Jeff Swearingen’s Willy in Fun House’s age-jumbled Death of a Salesman (opening November 13), has the play’s best moment and it’s one that suggests her acting skills just keep getting sharper. In desperation, her character Lottie sneaks away from the adults to phone the birth-father she’s never met, hoping he’ll invite her to come live with his family. Solo phone scenes are treacherous for the most experienced actors, so it’s impressive to see how Waterman navigates the one-sided call. Of course, she does it beautifully, allowing the pauses for the side of the conversation we can’t hear. She gets close to tears, but holds back just enough to keep it from spilling into mawkishness. She creates a Lottie who is a tough cookie who doesn’t crumble under pressure.
Covington has drawn strong performances from this cast, pushing the grown-up actors into some fresh moves and letting young Waterman shine. Frankly, she may have forced her co-stars to up their game to meet hers. They all sail smoothly through every enjoyable moment of Harbor.
Harbor continues through October 25 at Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Tickets $25-$40 at 214-219-2718 or uptownplayers.org.