By Dan Moyer
Directed by Jess Chayes
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Okay. A Millennial young woman named Annie (Keilly McQuail) sits in a bowling alley bar late at night hunched over her beer as a second Millennial – a young man named Gabe (Gabriel King) – enters the bar from the lanes. Annie says, “Nice shoes.” Gabe responds, “What?” So begins Dan Moyer’s new play “Half Moon Bay” currently running at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre and presented by Cherry Lane’s inaugural Company in Residence Lesser America. And so, too, begins the story of the Frankie-and-Johnny-like pair as they attempt to find grounding in a relationship seemingly doomed from the start.
Decidedly under the influence, Gabe and Annie embark on a cat-and-mouse adventure that leads to a second meeting at the bar and the not-so-surprising tryst at Annie’s apartment where additional beer, vodka (once with Vitamin Water), and cocaine fuel a truth-or-dare extravaganza that reveals a plethora of dysfunctional fallout not ameliorated by night and day time views of Half Moon Bay. This is a troubled couple who face every moment as if it were their last, laughing at their foibles yet cowering in fear in the corners of their deepest secrets.
Under Jess Chayes’ meticulous and spirited direction, Keilly McQuail and Gabriel King are the kingpins in this Lesser America production. Their emotional honesty is sometimes too much to bear, and their unwavering commitment to Mr. Moyer’s script is evident in every moment of every scene of the two-act play. Ms. McQuail brings a steely vulnerability to her Annie Barlev that perfectly counterpoints the droopy determination Mr. King brings to his Gabe Hester. They peel away the complex layers of their rich characters with care and bravery and leave nothing of the underbelly of their lives buried. In those places where Mr. Moyer’s script falters, these two actors fill in the gaps with the grit of their formidable craft.
Kudos to the run crew (Zachary Cohn, Maddi Knox, and Alexandra Scordato) who change Reid Thompson’s stark bowling alley bar into Annie’s messy apartment in a matter of minutes. Watching the changeover is akin to celebrating the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. M. Meriwether Snipes’ costumes, Mike Inwood’s bright to brooding lighting, and Janie Bullard’s sound design create the perfect border to this spot on design of perfectly matched interlocking pieces.
Annie and Gabe reveal the guts of a generation caught between forebears of success and failure, seeking sure footing in a landscape littered with doubt and despair, yearning for independence yet ensnared in webs of family systems often gone haywire. Not all have quite the level of depressive ennui as Gabe and Annie – though many do – but these two Millennial seekers serve as a powerful trope of a generation upon which depends the future of a nation and a global community. Enamored by credit card debt and numbed by a culture of sedation, this generation teeters on the edge of a precipice created by the collapse of two towers.
For better or for worse, playwright Dan Moyer decides to wrap up his new play with some sugarcoated surcease of despair. Whether that rings true is a matter of opinion. Perhaps the play would have been more cohesive had Gabriel walked out of Annie’s apartment without cab money and sporting plastic bag shoes instead of the expensive Etonics he lost in a bet or if Annie remained alone in her apartment leaving the audience to wonder if she will go down the stairs to meet her mother or open yet another can of beer or snort another line of cocaine. But perhaps that is just too much despair for the audience to bear in a year of political madness and unrelenting violence.
However, as it stands, “Half Moon Bay” is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the unrelenting hope of finding salvation in the face of the other.