Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Harper Regan": ☼ ☼ ☼

In each pivotal scene in Simon Stephens's "Harper Regan" we see Harper herself, played with finesse by Susi Damilano, alternating between sad and sadder. She is on the run, even when she's home, and when she leaves home she longs to be back. The San Francisco Playhouse production is a Western Premiere and bills itself as a physical odyssey through England, but it is nothing of the sort. Harper's journey is an internal one and could take place anywhere, as she winds herself through three men, a bar, a bridge, a hotel room and a leather jacket.

Damilano, in her finest role to date at SF Playhouse, gives her heroine depth simply by her facial expressions. The corners of her mouth turn down when she's glum, but her eyes always betray the hope of finding something or someone new.

It won't be her boss or Mickey (both played with pizazz by Richard Frederick), worthless reprobates, and not the young boy at the bridge (Daniel Redmond), and certainly not her mother (Joy Carlin). Harper's husband Seth and her fast fling James (both played by Michael Keys Hall) don't seem to help much either. What Harper Regan wants, more than anything else in the world, is to talk to somebody.

We might quibble with Joy Carlin's role as an English grandmother -- though we have loved Ms. Carlin in countless works through the years, this play seems to have a strong subtext about the English class struggle. Carlin does not sound English nor does she appear to embody whichever social class the author expects us to find in her. Mum is supposed to be distant, we imagine, but really she isn't all that bad.

Special notice goes to Monique Hafen, who stands out in both her roles as Harper's disaffected teenage daughter (is there any other kind?) and as a nurse in the hospital where Harper's father has just died. She brings a lot of life to the stage.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Harper Regan" Three Stars. It is worth seeing, though Stephens's story still feels a little like a work in progress, with loose ends and plot points (for example, all the idle chatter about porn) that don't seem to go where they should. Damilano and Hafen are terrific as mother and daughter. We hope they are on stage together again soon.

"Harper Regan"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through March 5

No comments: