What hath Yasmina Reza wrought? The playwright behind the Tony-winning God of Carnage seems to have inspired a surfeit of plays about quartets behaving badly in upper-crust environs. Harbor, a new Off Broadway play by Chad Beguelin (co-author of the musical versions of Elf and The Wedding Singer), has a similar setup except only half of the four is an actual couple: Ted, a well-to-do architect (Paul Anthony Stewart), and his longtime boyfriend, Kevin (Queer as Folk’s Randy Harrison), a struggling novelist, are thrown into a tizzy when the latter’s ”white Christmas trash” sister, Donna (Erin Cummings), and her bookish, uber-responsible teen daughter, Lottie (Alexis Molnar), pop in unannounced to their luxurious multi-room estate in Sag Harbor, NY. (Side note: Trashy mothers in popular entertainment always seem to have intensely bright kids, don’t they?) After a brief stay, Donna quickly tornadoes through Ted and Kevin’s safe, happy existence, and withholds a secret that eventually begins to show at about midriff-level.
Unlike Reza’s hit play, however, Harbor becomes less involving the more confidences it reveals. Beguelin certainly knows his way around a quip (”Your kitchen is so sexy I could f— it,” deadpans Donna, who gets most of the good lines). But he is less adept at taut (or even consistent) characterization. Donna, for instance, constantly becomes flummoxed at SAT words being dropped, but somehow pulls cul-de-sac out of her repertoire at a key moment. The central gay couple, while never resorting to outright clichés, also feels a bit dated. You get standard yuks about how gays are great at accessorizing and home decoration, though set designer Andrew Jackness’ well-appointed McMansion would barely rank as a modest abode in one of Horton Foote’s quaint plays about Harrison, Tex. (despite Donna’s constant marveling at how opulent the place is).
The actors capably fill the gaps in the fuzzy outlines (especially Stewart and Cummings), and some of Beguelin’s zingers land with the punchiness of Charles Busch’s more modern works. But when the play falters, particularly in the contrived and melodramatic wind-up, you wish Beguelin had the Busch’s acrid judiciousness. Because far too much of Harbor — forgive the pun — sags. C