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Hal & Bee

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 14, 2018

Candy Buckley and Jeff Hayenga
Photo by Hunter Canning

A long-married, long-suffering couple entering late middle age have pushed each other's buttons so often that they threaten to "bicker each other to death," as one of them puts it in Max Baker's Hal & Bee, opening tonight in a sharply insightful, darkly comic, and very well acted production at 59E59 Theaters.

Hal (Jeff Hayenga) and Bee (Candy Buckley) met years before when both were hippies and joined their generation in raging against the military-industrial complex. It felt, as Bee puts it, "like we were doing something worthwhile." But now what? Their daughter Moon (Lisa Jill Anderson) is grown and out of the house, and their lives are marked by counting the days. Bee works as a museum tour guide, while Hal pretty much stays home, flipping through TV channels, playing video games, or jotting down random thoughts for the anti-establishment blog he shares with his 652 followers.

Every marriage is complicated in its own way, of course, as relationships settle into deep-set and predictable habits that once may have seemed endearing but which have become, over time, irritating as hell to the other person. Instead of dealing with their angst and either splitting up or finding a way to move forward together, Bee and Hal have chosen to anesthetize themselves, she by drinking alcohol and he by vaping pot (Moon, who stops by occasionally, is his supplier). They also amuse themselves by fantasizing about killing one another and complaining to Moon when she comes to visit.

The one ray of hope that Bee sees for change is for them to take advantage of an offer by the new owner of their rental building, where they have a lovely pre-war apartment (perfectly designed by Brian Dudkiewicz, down to Hal's cluttered desk, the bookcase filled with books, papers, and tchotchkes, and Moon's childhood artwork among the prints on the walls). The owner wants to buy them out of their rent-controlled lease, and Bee longs to take the money and use it to purchase a lakeside cabin in the Adirondacks.

This is a play that works by successfully capturing the nitty-gritty of the couple's lives, and, with the exception of the fantasy "murder" sequences (after the first, these become unnecessarily repetitious), the playwright has created a very realistic pair, indeed; so much so that members of the audience could be seen grimacing with apparent recognition at some of the more blistering lines. Even the supporting characters of Moon and the building's philosophic Russian exterminator (Ian Poake), each of whom provides a welcome relief from the constant sniping, are smartly conceived and performed. Moon, in particular, refuses to take sides; "I'm retired from all judicial petitioning," she wisely tells her cranky dad at one point. The pair at the center of Hal & Bee, directed with a keen eye for detail by Sarah Norris, may remind you a bit of Edward Albee's backstabbing George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But, no, they are just a pair of aging hippies who have lost their way. It remains to be seen if they will be able to find sobriety and their way back to each other, either in the Adirondacks or the Upper West Side.

Hal & Bee
Through March 31
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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