“A View of the Harbor” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ October 27, 2008


Actors Theatre, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Playwright Richard Dresser dissects American happiness in his three play trilogy that explores the issue from different cultural perspectives. Phoenix is lucky because we’ve seen all of the plays in Actors Theatre’s well produced series that culminates now with the last installment, “A View of the Harbor.”

The latest looks at the wealthy class struggle to achieve happiness concluding that money can’t buy contentment. “Augusta,” the first play, viewed the issue from the blue collar perspective, while “The Pursuit of Happiness” took a middle-class, suburban viewpoint. The first two plays blended raucous comedy with rich insight into the struggle for those groups.

“A View of the Harbor” also mixes humor with the struggle but this one takes a really whacked out look at the rich. Set in a dilapidated old mansion in Maine, Nick, Daniel’s son, visits his father and caretaker sister, Kathryn, because of his father’s stroke. The non-existent stroke was a plea to get Nick to deal with his father.

Daniel refuses to spend his wealth to make a decent lifestyle. When Nick arrives with his girlfriend, Paige, his dad’s slovenly life strikes a sympathetic chord. Daniel still holds a leadership role in the successful family business. He wants Nick to succeed him, something Nick rebels against. Nick is a blue collar factory worker who keeps his wealth hidden.

While Dresser creates many laughs at Daniel’s bizarre life, he also shows how Kathryn hates abandoning her independence and her life. He doesn’t capture the wealthy as broadly as his other plays personify the other social classes. Few rich reject using resources like Daniel but many never achieve happiness. The wealthy’s struggle to be happy is much more complex and the play could better analyze it.

Actors Theatre’s excellent staging is well performed and Ron May’s fine staging breezes along, emphasizing the comedy while underlining the play’s dark corners.

Christian Miller’s Nick makes us believe he is a blue collar worker until we realize his wealthy connection. As Paige, Melody Butiu sashays around as a well-to-do woman who uses her place to help those less fortunate. When Paige understands Nick’s family, Butiu grows more philosophical. Cathy Dresbach is her usual brilliant self as the confused Kathryn who struggles with her predicament as she tries precariously to maintain her sanity. Finally, Ben Tyler gives a most accomplished performance as Daniel. Tyler is appropriately crazed but otherwise is just as stable as Daniel’s mind allows. He delivers Dresser’s comedy with artful timing while also making the role pitiable.

“A View of the Harbor,” the weakest of Dresser’s trilogy examining American happiness, continues through November 9. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or go online at www.actorstheatrePHX.org.

Grade: C