By Max Baker
Directed by Sarah Norris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
What are two aging ex-hippies supposed to do when the socio-political environment around them escalates its full-frontal assault on the values they espoused and fought so passionately for in the sixties and seventies? Not only do they continue to feel “stalked” by “corporate bastards” like the cable company, but they are about to be evicted from their rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, so the owner of their building can realize its intention “to restructure a number of rental units to better reflect the market opportunities in [the] neighborhood.” The heated “discussions” around these external topics counterpoint the internal animus between Bee (a supercharged and rascally Candy Buckley) and her longtime husband Hal (a malcontented and “tuned-out” Jeff Hayenga).
This animus is the combative “stuff” of Max Baker’s “Hal & Bee,” currently being presented by Stable Cable Lab Company and The New Light Theater Project at 59E59 Theaters. In this allegorical extended metaphor, “civilization and its discontents” camps at the doorstep of the scrapping couple’s apartment in a rapid-fire exchange laced with flights of fantasy and just the hint of buyer’s remorse. Without disclosing too much of the plot driven by the exaggerated (albeit authentic) conflicts of the play’s colorful and well-developed characters, it is probably sufficient to mention there are multiple murders, a myriad of cover-ups, and a morsel of a suicide attempt. Whether these events are real, or the trappings of fantasy need to be decided by the members of the audience.
Hal and Bee bicker in the style of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf’s” George and Martha. The arguments in “Hal & Bee” are not exacerbated by a real or imagined child but by are exacerbated by the real or imagined success of the “baby” of the boomers’ generation. Daughter Moon (a misdirected and “old soul” Lisa Jill Anderson) tries to ignore the parental caterwauling and simply sell drugs to her dad and navigate her own adventures at finding love. And the Bug Man (a brilliant and convincing Arthur Kriklivy at this performance) reframes Hal’s savage fantasies with stories of discovering and removing mold in one’s house. Under Sarah Norris’s astute direction, the cast handily delivers Max Baker’s intriguing script with energy and determination.
Brian Dudkiewicz’s Upper West Side apartment is stunning and beautifully crafted, lighted carefully by Michael O’Connor. Hopefully, before the end of the run, the black curtain outside the apartment door will be replaced with a “wall.”
What goes on at 450 West 99th Street might rattle the imagination; however, Hal and Bee’s story confirms the discontents of the current inhabitants of the global neighborhood and seems to portend that all we might have to look forward to is a survival signaled by the sound of our breathing, as we nestle together in an attempt to stave off “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that threaten to undo us and mire us in self-pity and fear.