Harper's Journey

Early in Harper Regan, the exquisitely directed, gorgeously acted and profoundly moving new show at the SF Playhouse by British playwright Simon Stephens, the fortyish title character (Susi Damilano) has to ask her employer (Richard Frederick) for a simple leave of absence to visit her dying father.  Playwright Simon Stephens penned a long monologue, beautifully delivered by Frederick in order for him to deny Harper's request.  Harper comes home to find her obnoxious teen daughter, Sarah (Monique Hafen) and her hapless unemployed husband Seth (a sympathetic Michael Keys Hall) working on material for Sarah's university entrance exams.  Harper receives cold treatment from them so she quietly walks away.  Near her home on a bridge, Harper meets and flirts with a male teen, Tobias Rich (Daniel Redmond). 

Harper journeys from Uxbridge to Manchester to see her father and his met at the hospital by an understanding nurse (Monique Hafen in a wonderful turnabout performance), who informs Harper that she is too late.  Triggered by grief and guilt, Harper wanders to a pub where she meets an anti-Semitic jerk journalist (in a  completely contrasting performance by Richard Frederick who previously played Harper's boss), who comes on so strong that Harper cuts him with a broken cocktail glass and steals his leather jacket.   Following this encounter, Harper arranges a sexual encounter over the internet from a cyber-cafe with a senior citizen, James Fortune played wistfully by Michael Keys Hall who previously played Harper's husband).  After this she visits her mother (Joy Carlin) to tell her she was a terrible mother.  Upon her return home to her family, Sarah insults Harper and Seth stiffly tries to act like everything is fine.

Harper Regan is a play packed full of unforgettable conversations and exceptional acting. All of the characters except Harper and her mother are double cast in contrasting roles.  As Harper, Susie Damilano's acting is powerful.  She tackles the script with imagination and confidence, while still allowing her co-stars to take over in all the right places.  Director Amy Glazer brings her customary flair and sensitivity to the production with her firm direction that pulls the play together.  Most scenes feel like mini-plays in their own right. 

The SF Playhouse West Coast Premiere of Harper Regan features fine ensemble acting with especially compelling performances  by Susie Damilano as Harper and Joy Carlin as her estranged mother. 
Bill English's set is a stroke of genius--a concrete shell imprinted with the reverse image of a household's walls, which was inspired by the British sculptor, Rachael Whiteread. 

Harper Regan, this truly absorbing, fiery, and memorable production continues at SF Playhouse through March 5, 2011.  Performances are held Tuesday-Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (1 block off Union Square). For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or go online at www.sfplayhouse.org.

Coming up next at SF Playhouse will be Wirehead by Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown and directed by Susie Damilano, opening March 19, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson