When you see two to four plays a month, your standards drop. Sure, he forgot most of his lines, you think, but at least he enunciated the ones he remembered. Or, yeah, what started as a Jamaican accent has slipped to Russian, but maybe the director is making a statement about artifice. Then, if you're lucky, a flawless play comes along and recalibrates you. Happily, Simon Stephen's astute and darkly funny "Harper Regan" is such a play.
Pleasurably restrained for a show taking on such sweeping themes as guilt and redemption, isolation in the technological age and family values, this gently inquisitive script moves effortlessly forward through intense, mostly two-person scenes. Through the course of the show, protagonist Harper (a superb Kendra Thulin) leaves her mysteriously hangdog husband (Peter Moore) and daughter (Caroline Neff) ostensibly to visit her dying father. As the action unfurls, however, Harper's confused motives and her family's tainted history crystallize, leaving her searching for connection through any available means. Stephen's ability to marry lyricism with believable dialogue allows the brilliant cast to showcase its precise characterizations. No actor stands out; the ensemble is that solid. However, Thulin's accent, unwavering and spot-on, bears noting, as does Neff's comedic timing, borne of earnest commitment.
Many modern plays take on issues of connectivity, iPod-bred isolation and online anonymity, but none so dexterously as "Harper Regan." Under Robin Witt's confident direction, not only does each actor shine, but through appropriate pacing, hip, pertinent music choices and a flair for complex material, the show as a unit puts most Chicago theater to shame.