Thursday, November 17, 2011

review - Harbor

written & directed by Jon Cellini
Victory Theatre
through December 3

Webster defines harbor as shelter, refuge... for boats, of course... but the meaning may be extended to include human beings, in regard to harboring - holding onto - feelings, emotions. When Tommy (Matthew Lillard) accuses his ex-wife Jules (Mary Thornton Brown) of "harboring sh-- and never letting go", he places the initial blame for their breakup on her, excusing his own weaknesses and lack of commitment. The connection between Tommy and Jules is but one of the relationships explored in Jon Cellini's engrossing new play Harbor onstage at the Big Victory until December 3.

Jules is seeing Saul (Grinnell Morris), a successful scientist who is crazy about her, but she, for a multitude of reasons, just cannot commit. Then there's Jules' dad, with whom she was quite close (Bob Rumnock; role shared with John C. McLaughlin), who has just passed away. Jules and her sister DeeDee (Luka Lyman) are still grieving, each in her own way. Then there's DeeDee's marriage to loyal Ronnie (P J Marino), which seems the happiest of the lot. There's also Tommy's new wife Christie (Zibby Allen), the complete opposite of Jules in so many ways. She's less sophisticated, to be sure, but warm, caring and easy to get to know and like, as she refuses to hold on to negativity - unlike Jules. Finally there's Justin (Matthew Gardner), Jules' and Tommy's teenage son, trying to deal with his own set of issues as well as to make sense of all the adult turmoil around him. But wait, this is a dramedy, and there are many comic moments to lighten things up.

Cellini has created a very enjoyable evening of theatre in which the main issue is Jules' relationship with Tommy. Despite their divorce, when they come together, sparks fly, both negative and positive. An attraction remains that both must deal with. For Jules who is also dealing with the loss of her father, her father's will - in which Tommy was named inherited owner of his boats, Justin's angst and Saul's moving in on her much too quickly - well, the stress is more than she can bear. There is a great sense of humor within the dialogue, some delightful characterizations, and an overall very realistic approach to the situations that make for a finely tuned play with great potential. My only qualm is that the play begins and ends with Jules. In the opening scene she sees her father before he dies and the closing scene is a fabrication in her mind in which the father and Tommy come together in a peaceful reconciliation. Does this mean that Jules' perspective dominates the entire play? Is it all to be judged subjectively from her viewpoint or is there an objective eye at work here? I see both, but it's not crystal clear if Cellini wants Jules in control of all that comes across, particularly in regard to Tommy's behavior.

Under Cellini's fast-moving direction, the entire cast glows. Brown is engaging from the first scene. She makes Jules real, complex, strong, yet vulnerable. Lillard is an electric presence on stage. He is tall and lanky, and carries himself well, even when he sits and stretches out for comfort. His volatility is intense, yet his tremendous humor makes Tommy's faults seem less affecting than his likability. He's like a big kid who never grew up. As to appealing, all of the actors put humane touches on the characters, making them totally pleasant company. Gardner, especially stands out, making Justin's maturation focused and perceptive.

Harbor's strengths outweigh its flaws, making it simultaneously absorbing and enjoyable to watch. One scene toward the end of Act I in which the whole ensemble play the game Celebrity is laugh-out-loud hilarious, showing without restraint the aggressively competitive nature of each and every player.

 Great cast! Go see it through December 3 only!

4 out of 5 stars
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See my interview with Matthew Lillard:

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