Theater Review: ‘Harper Regan’ at SF Playhouse

The set, yet again, is another standout by artistic director Bill English.

Daughter (Monique Hafen) and Harper (Susi Damilano) bond.
Daughter (Monique Hafen) and Harper (Susi Damilano) bond.
In Review

Harper Regan

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars - 'Worth a Look'
SF Playhouse
Directed by Amy Glazer
Starring Joy Carlin*, Susi Damilano, Richard
Frederick*, Monique Hafen, Michael Keys Hall*, John Mercer and Daniel Redmond
by Simon Stephens
www.sfplayhouse.org
Review by
Daughter (Monique Hafen) and Harper (Susi Damilano) bond.
Daughter (Monique Hafen) and Harper (Susi Damilano) bond.

When Harper Regan has neared the end of her journey, and as the reality of day-to-day existence returns, she’s told that her leather jacket looks ridiculous, that she’s trying too hard to look young. At that point I looked somewhat sheepishly at my own jacket and pants, as I sat there for the opening night at SF Playhouse.

In Harper Regan, a British play by Simon Stephens now enjoying its west coast premiere (and only third production), the mid-life crisis gets the starring role.

It’s not always pretty, and at times can be droll, slow and depressing. But that’s life. No doubt this material will hit painfully close to home for many.

“You’re just a bid odd, not old”

The family unit, the quest for love, and the demons we must battle in everyday suburban living are just some of the themes that run through the play. And death of course. In fact it’s the loss of Harper Regan’s father, who dies prior to her arrival to the hospital, that sets off her directionless sojourn.

Soon she finds herself talking to a 17 year-old student who owns a motor bike (Daniel Redmond), boozing at 11am in a bar with stranger Mickey (Richard Friderick), and dancing with a man (Michael Keys Hall) she met through the personals. Come to think of it, it’s a bit like a Charlie Sheen roadtrip with artistic merit.

Ultimately she must reconcile relationships with the people who matter most including her free spirited but head strong daughter (Monique Hafen), her estranged mother (Joy Carlin) and her solemn husband.

As the lead, Susi Damilano is on stage the entire show and delivers a measured, low-key performance. It reminded me somewhat of the grieving wife in Rabbit Hole. Her turmoil is vexing and complex. We see it in her somewhat defeated body language and vacant stares.

After learning of father's death Harper heads to bar and seeks solace from stranger, Mickey (Richard Frederick*)
After learning of father's death Harper heads to bar and seeks solace from stranger, Mickey (Richard Frederick*)

Other performances are also strong, although the Brit accent can make for some ebbs and flows in consistency, but it never detracts from the story.

The set, yet again, is another standout by Bill English (also the artistic director). It constantly amazes me what he and the team can do within the confines of the SF Playhouse. Located on the second floor of a narrow building on Sutter Street in San Francisco, space is at a premium, with at least half of it occupied by seating. Spinning walls and tiered platforms, however, are cleverly designed to takes us from office interiors, outdoor parks, bars, kitchens and apartments with minimal fuss. It’s really impressive.

If the goal of Harper Regan is to make us think, to assess our yearning for growth and change, than it mostly succeeds. As entertainment, however, it’s a trickier proposition. The two-day ordeal is a bit of a downer, and the material is so sardonic that the inspirational message was a bit lost on this viewer. Then again, mid-life crisises are not necessarily supposed to be blow the roof off celebrations. Well, I should find out soon enough, I just hope I wear the leather well.

Harper Regan
by Simon Stephens
SF Playhouse
3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Amy Glazer
Starring Joy Carlin*, Susi Damilano, Richard Frederick*, Monique Hafen, Michael Keys Hall*, John Mercer and Daniel Redmond
Through March 5, 2011
sfplayhouse.org

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.