By Max Baker; Directed by Sarah Norris
Produced by Stable Cable Lab Company and New Light Theater Project
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.31.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 3.25.18
Jeff Hayenga and Candy Buckley in Hal & Bee. Photo by Hunter Canning.
BOTTOM LINE: Hal & Bee features plenty of clever, laugh-inducing, fast-paced dialogue well executed by a skilled cast.
Sartre's observation that "Hell is other people" certainly proves true in Hal & Bee, a new dark comedy by Max Baker which focuses on an aging couple who spend all day bickering and fantasizing about each other's demise. Hal and Bee (Jeff Hayenga and Candy Buckley) have lived in their rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side for most of their married life, getting in before Manhattan priced out the middle class and raising their daughter Moon (Lisa Jill Anderson) there. While they were both once freewheeling hippie types, Bee has since become more pragmatic, working long hours at a museum job she loathes in order to secure them financially for retirement. Hal has clung steadfast to his beliefs and hates that Manhattan today bears little resemblance to that of his youth. Once a prolific writer, he now has trouble getting his politically charged books published; when he is not busy venting online, he vapes marijuana (provided by Moon), plays video games, and fantasizes about murdering Bee.
Bee has her own coping mechanisms: downing bourbon and dreaming of retiring. But the tension in the relationship builds when Hal and Bee get a letter from their building's new management company, offering them $30,000 to end their lease so the landlord can charge the market value for an apartment in such a prime location. Bee takes it as a sign that it is time for them to move on and lead simpler lives; she suggests that they find a home upstate and ease into retirement. Hal, on the other hand, is furious and insists that they fight onto the end. As Bee digs in her heels, Hal imagines a bloody murder scene where he drags Bee across the floor screaming and stabs her in the back. (His fantasy is destroyed when Moon comes knocking on the door, making him realize that his wife is still very much alive.)
Under the guidance of director Sarah Norris, all four actors in the cast excel in delivering the play's fast-paced comedic dialogue. Lisa Jill Anderson is particularly good in her role as a jaded young woman who feels the emotional disconnect that her generation's dependency on technology has created. The set and props, designed by Brian Dudkiewicz and Abigail Stuckey respectively, create a highly accurate reproduction of an Upper West Side apartment, down to every small lived-in detail, so that entering the theatre feels like visiting someone's home. The roof of the set lowers slowly throughout the action, creating the sensation that the characters' lives are closing in on them.
At least initially, the "murder" scenes feel out of place, creating a shocking and contrast to the play's comedic tone. Even when we realize they are merely Hal's delusions, it's hard to laugh at the sight of a man beating and stabbing his wife to death, until the scenarios became increasingly absurd and no longer one-sided, with the two each trying to murder each other in a bloody face-off. By the end, this unhappily-wed couple crawls towards a hopeful future, but only after fighting through the same repetitive, circular arguments, ones that perhaps could have been tightened in the script.
(Hal & Bee plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through March 31, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212-279-4200. For more information visit stablecablelabco.org.)
Hal & Bee is by Max Baker. Directed by Sarah Norris. Set Design by Brian Dudkiewicz. Lighting Design by Michael O'Connor. Sound Design by Andy Evan Cohen. Stage Manager is Nikki Castle.
The cast is Lisa Jill Anderson, Candy Buckley, Jeff Hayenga, and Ian Poake.