By Simon Stephens
Directed by Robin Witt
At Steep Theatre
British drama of a wife’s trip of self-discovery rings hollow
British playwright Simon Stephens’ 2008 family drama, Harper Regan, is the story of Harper Regan (Kendra Thulin), a main bread-winner for a middle class British family, who finally has enough of her unsatisfactory life as events cause her to literally walk away from her family. Harper goes an a three day odyssey of self-discovery. Throughout the first act, we are baffled as to why Harper feels compelled to desert her present life.
The opening scene finds Harper asking her boss, Elwood Barnes (Alex Gillmor) for a few days off so she can be with her dying father. Playwright Simon Stephens penned a long meandering monologue for Barnes in order for him to deny Harper’s request. Why? Harper comes home to find her obnoxious teen daughter Sarah (Caroline Neff) and her hapless unemployed husband Seth (Peter Moore) working on material for her university entrance exams. Harper receives cold treatment from them so she quietly walks away. Near her home she meets and flirts with a male teen, Tobias Rich (Curtis M. Jackson).
Harper journeys to see her father but she arrives after he dies so she wonders to a pub where she meet a jerk journalist who comes on so strong that Harper cuts him with a broken cocktail glass and steals his leather jacket. We are still guessing why she is acting out since Kendra Thulin is playing Harper as a stoic, coldly bland woman whose sexual needs are seem to be overwhelming her. She arranges a sexual encounter over the Internet from a cybercafe with a senior citizen, James Fortune (Dan Flannery) Why?
She then visits her mother to tell her that she was a terrible mother. Why since the confrontation was quite mild? We learn in act two about Seth’s arrest for being a potential child molester. Upon her return to her family, Sarah insults Harper and Seth stiffly tries act like everything is fine. Harper tells Seth about her sexual encounter with the older man. He cries. The play soon ends.
I’m not sure what to think of Harper Regan–both the play and the character. Harper’s journey and her escapades lacked clear cut motivation and seemed contrived by the playwright. Also the decision to have Kendra Thulin play Harper as a low-keyed befuddled woman didn’t seem to fit. If Harper’s stolid, bewildered, and benumbed existence forced her walk away, why did she return home to a child who hates her and to a loveless marriage to a weak man? The action of this British drama didn’t resonate with me.
Kendra Thulin worked hard to play Harper as directed. The supporting roles were effective. It’s Stephens’ incredulous plot that I couldn’t swallow. Maybe women will be able to relate to Harper’s actions. Maybe.
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago, IL, call 312-458-0722, www.steeptheatre.com, tickets $18, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.