Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: A Night of Need

The joke set up is simple. A guy walks into a bar. But the punchline, that's where things get interesting and the ingenuity of the writing comes in. In Half Moon Bay by Dan Moyer, a drunken meet-cute between a pair of millennials leads to inebriated truths that fosters an important bond.
Presented by Lesser America as part of Cherry Lane Theatre's inaugural company in residence, Half Moon Bay is a play about nothing yet about everything. Annie and Gabe meet at a bowling alley bar where vicious flirtation leads to another meeting and a nightcap. But when they arrive at Annie's place, the alcohol keeps flowing as their wants and needs are exposed. This is a play about two people who desperately need each other. One embraces the prospect, the other denies it. Half Moon Bay is more than watching a drunken hookup. Moyer has written a play with brilliantly rich characters. They are authentic and real. Their journey is accurate. Moyer has captured young people hookup culture yet found depth in the saga. His writing is snappy and accessible. He has the ability to cut the tension with a joke. But quite possibly the most striking commentary Moyer has raised is the power of substance. Whether intentional or not, you have to wonder would the bond between Gabe and Annie happen had alcohol, and a line of coke, not been introduced. The device of alcohol as a truth serum that serves as a bit of a crutch. But that may be the point. Would these two individuals make this important connection without being wasted out of their minds? It’s hard to say. But regardless, watching their journey provides an impeccable payoff.
photo by Steven Pisano
Two handers are all about chemistry. And there is no denying the duo of Half Moon Bay were magnetic. Gabriel King as Gabe and Keilly McQuail as Annie were a quicky comedic duo with incredible harmony. King gives a defining performance as the guy who gets dejected after his hopes get dashed yet never gives up on his desires. King has a goofy charm that played well in Moyer’s world. He used his physicality to his benefit. McQuail thrives in the idiosyncratic “Zooey Deschanel type”. But McQuail gives a bit more gruffness to Annie. What McQuail did well was not fall into the trap of playing her secret from the start of the play. It easily could have derailed the character’s journey. By allowing her reveal to come in such blindsiding fashion, authenticity comes out where the audience is just as shocked as Gabe. Because nothing of substance really happens in Half Moon Bay, you have to care about these characters. King and McQuail do just that.
photo by Steven Pisano
This production will be celebrated not only for the script and performances but by the ingenious scenic design by Reid Thompson. About thirty minutes into the show, intermission rolls around and you scratch your head thinking “but why?” If you stay in your seat and watch the dance of the scene shift, you’ll understand. Thompson has created two incredibly realistic locations in the intimate studio space at Cherry Lane. Wondrous is an understatement. Beginning with the carpeted dive bar, Thompson’s design evokes desperation. It serves its purpose. Though director Jess Chayes using the various bar space sparingly, you know this bar despite having never visited it before. For Act II, Annie’s mess of an apartment is decently spacious and a divided up well. Thompson avoidance of sharp angles, calling for a more linear look, was smart. This is a play of naturalism and the set needed to match it. When it came to guiding her duo. Jess Chayes found ways to bring out the best and worst of each person. Aside from the set, Chayes didn’t fall back on anything flashy. She allowed the words to speak for themselves. The lighting design by Mike Inwood and sound design by Janie Bullard was effective. The costumes from M. Meriwether Snipes fit the characters perfectly.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you are or know these people. You’ve been in this situation before. Dan Moyer’s Half Moon Bay is one to remember. This will be a play that will be performed all over the place. From colleges to scene study classes to every audition, Half Moon Bay is a special play. Lesser America has another hit on their hands.