by Beatrice Williams-Rude
A beautifully mounted, skillfully directed and brilliantly acted production of Simon Stephens’ play Harper Regan (produced by T. Schreiber Studio for Theatre & Film) opened Saturday, May 7. This is a work for grownups, brave grownups, who are willing to live with the knowledge that the only thing we really know is that we don’t know. It is not for those with attention-deficit disorder, but rather for those prepared to ponder and probe a multilayered panorama.
Harper Regan, the title character, is simultaneously coping with the sudden realization that she’s 41 and that her father is dying. When her controlling employer refuses to allow her to take time off to see her beloved father, she leaves without a word—not to her husband, not to her daughter. She embarks almost unknowingly on an odyssey of self-discovery.
Arriving at the hospital too late to bid her father farewell and tell him she loves him, the devastated Harper wanders, has an unpleasant encounter in a pub, goes to an Internet café, meets a surprisingly gentle man and indulges in casual sex. She goes to see her mother, to whom she’d not spoken in two years, blaming her for what develops was actually the father’s doing. The mother keeps reaching out to Harper, who spurns her even as Harper’s own daughter rejects Harper.
As in Simon Stephens’ play Heisenberg—which deals with the “uncertainty” theory—so his Harper Regan addresses uncertainty in family relationships and how we may not really know the people we think we know best. The need for honest communication among family members is the leit motif. Consciousness of our own mortality is a recurrent theme. Harper keeps asking people their age and responses reveal that age in is the eye of the beholder.
Harper is her family’s breadwinner because her husband, an architect, is on the sexual offenders list for kiddie porn. Harper believes he’s innocent—he took photos of children in a playground—but her parents convinced him to plea bargain so the family would not be embarrassed by a public trial. Thus he landed on the list that effectively keeps him unemployed. After a fierce confrontation with her mother, Harper sees that it was not her mother, but her adored father who was responsible for putting pressure on her husband not to stand trial; and so she reconciles with her mother. She also comes to wonder about her husband’s innocence.
Upon returning home (her odyssey took only two days and her travels were within two-hundred miles of her home) she is confronted by her angry daughter, Sarah, who blames Harper for all that’s wrong in the family. Sarah adores her father and does not see his feet of clay, just as Harper had felt about her own father. In a wrenching scene, mother and daughter are reconciled. Stephens examines how patterns are repeated, generation after generation and only truth will free the participants.
Harper confesses her infidelity to her husband after first having confessed to the 17-year-old handsome dark-skinned youth with whom she’d taken up, that she’d followed him for months, that she could see into his bedroom from her garden. So was Harper a voyeur even as was her husband?
Hope is expressed in the final scene as the new normal seemed to unfold. Sarah, no longer seeming rebellious or hostile, is without her garish makeup and looks lovely. Harper and husband, Seth, appear at peace.
Maeve Yore is glorious as Harper showing the character’s many facets. In the scene in the hospital with grief therapist Justine Ross (wonderfully played by Megan Grace) these two not only reveal the inner workings of their characters, but give a sense of place—insular England. The audience burst into applause after this scene.
Harper’s mother, Alison Woolley, is splendidly explored by Margo Goodman. Harper’s daughter, Sarah, initially a thankless role, emerges triumphantly as played by Lauren Capkanis. Ryan Johnston is convincingly repugnant as Mickey Nestor, the tough in the pub; David Donahoe as Harper’s tender lover; John Fennessy is refreshing as Harper’s friendly step-father; Jerry Topitzer is truly menacing as Harper’s employer, who may be more interested in her than he should be, and who may also be an online porn enthusiast—his unsolicited denials lead me to think he doth protest too much. Seth Regan, Harper’s husband, is sympathetically portrayed by Richard Stables. The two very young handsome non-Caucasian youths, Tobias Rich and Mahesh Aslam, are attractively played by Mike Phillips Gomez and Vick Krishna.
Kudos to Terry Schreiber for his effective and economical direction. The clever adaptable set is by George Allison; lighting by Dennis Parichy; sound by Andy Evan Cohen; costumes by Hope Governali.
Harper Regan. Through June 4 at the T. Schreiber Theatre (151 West Twenty-sixth Street, Seventh floor, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). www.tschreiber.org
Photos by Remy