It’s difficult to know quite what to make of Harper Regan by Simon Stephens, the British import at the Atlantic being given a new American production directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch. And that’s because the stakes for the title character, played with an understated, existential bewilderment by Mary McCann are mostly internal and unarticulated.
The play starts with a long scene in which she endures a slow torment by her boss (Jordan Lage) in the wake of her having requested time off to visit her dying father in hospital. A request he refuses with sadistic pretense of possible reconsideration.
She next makes a random friendship (of a sort) with a 17-year old black boy on the bridge overlooking her Uxbridge neighborhood; we’re not sure what she intends by it; neither is the boy and, so it seems, neither does she.
We next meet her unemployed husband Seth (Gareth Saxe) and college-student daughter Sarah (Madeline Martin) both of whom depend on Harper’s paycheck; but far from being depicted as leeches or a burden, they are introduced as loving, normal father and daughter, with Regan’s relationship to them seeming likewise nothing much out of the ordinary. There is, to be sure, an out-of-the-ordinary context to Seth’s financial dependence on Regan, but that’s not so much as hinted at in these early sequences, nor is it revealed for quite some time.
I could continue listing the vignettes—which include a guy in a bar (Peter Scanavino), a guy in a hotel (Christopher Innvar) and her Mom (Mary Beth Piel), among others, but it’s not mine to spoil the lowkey-picaresque narrative line; the point is Harper is just a middle-aged working wife and mother going through a general-purpose midlife crisis. I suppose if anything makes the play remarkable, it’s that she crams a few weeks’ worth of renegade behavior into two days. But that doesn’t make her special; merely industrious.
Everything about the production is perfectly respectable, and in terms of character delineation and holding your attention, so is the play…but nothing about it feels necessary, revealing, urgent or resonant, because in making Harper a wandering cipher, Mr. Stephens hasn’t properly staked out or defined the thematic territory we’re meant to respond to.
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