BWW Review: HARBOR at FSU/Asolo Conservatory nears perfection
I love going to the theatre to see a show I have never heard of before. I refuse to do any research prior to attending, not because I don't want to do my due diligence as a reviewer but because I love the magic of theatre. Seeing a show with no expectations and no preconceived notions about what is to occur often provides me with an authentic experience the cast and crew work so hard to deliver. "Harbor" running at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory delivers this goal to near perfection.
The play takes place in modern day Sag Harbor as the care-free Donna, played by Summer Dawn Wallace, and her insightful yet often neglected daughter Lottie, played by Jen Diaz stop in for a visit to the home of Donna's brother and his husband.
The story focuses on the issues faced by all marriages as well as the love and turmoil that occurs in family dynamics. The problems for our characters occur as Donna and Lottie's visit turns into a prolonged stay where Donna's true intentions for her visit become evident. The play has a steady flow but takes you on a vast journey of emotions as the plot weaves and turns in some very unexpected ways.
The script at its core provides continual humor and while most of it is crass in nature it portrays authentic experiences and beliefs that exist throughout society. Playwright, Chad Beguelin infuses this humor throughout the tale. The show has a few moments that are a little bit of a reach but not so much that the audience does not ponder the plausibility of the outcome with a final decision that this very well may be reality.
Director Greg Leaming presents four characters who display a wide dynamic range and helps the audience see the many layers that reside within these eccentric characters. With scenic design by Steven Kemp and lighting design by Michael Pasquini the creative team makes the audience feel like they are in their own living room from the very beginning and as such helps you relate to the comfort and daily struggles of today's families.
While there are momentary lulls in the story which is more reflective of the script than the performance, the four actors are exquisite in their portrayals of these complex characters. The connections and relationships between these characters immerse you in the storyline as you begin to understand the desires they have for themselves and their counterparts.
Marc Bitler plays Donna's brother Kevin who is the "girl" of the relationship and is in a continual struggle to find himself. As a failed writer, Bitler does a masterful job of conveying happiness through his lack of success. His ability to demonstrate love for his sister and niece all while maintaining his ability to show love for his husband is powerful. Bitler displays the inner struggles he faces while at the same time maintaining a façade that everything is ok.
His husband Ted, portrayed by Creg Sclavi is powerful and successful. Ted supports Kevin through all his failures but at the same time exerts control over the household placing his dreams at the forefront. Sclavi is fantastic. His ability to convey such a wide range of feelings and do to so flawlessly leaves you in awe. The emotional variance required of the character is like watching a game of ping pong and Sclavi is on point with each and every serve.
Summer Dawn Wallace's depiction of Donna provides so many moments of great humor. Donna, who is homeless uses her wit to deflect her shortcomings. Wallace's challenge lies in the battle between her affection for her family and her wishes for just some degree of success and fortune. It is essential for Wallace to show us the faults in her character while maintain her strength and perceived apathy as a woman with no regard for commitment and obligations. To this degree Wallace delivers. Her ability to make you root for her character despite her flaws is a credit to her strength as an actress.
Jen Diaz, who plays the 15-year-old daughter Lottie is nothing short of superb. Beguelin has created intricate characters but probably none more so than Lottie. Diaz takes you on a continual journey to find her happiness which is the central part of the story even if this is not evident early on. Diaz has impeccable comedic timing and was a clear fan favorite as she searches to find love and a place of belonging that has been so absent from her life. Diaz conveys her struggles while maintain a strength that makes you certain she with come out ahead in the end.
"Harbor" is masterful at so many turns. I have an ability, to no fault of the actors, to remove myself from the story to their craft at any moment. While I hope you have the fortune to stay immersed throughout the story I believe you will inevitably have the same sentiments I experienced numerous times during the show - where you just pause at the performance of this talented cast and think "man, they are good!"
"Harbor" runs through August 25th. Tickets and more information can be found at asolorep.org/Conservatory
Photo Credit: Cliff Roles