I don’t want to pretend about beer with you. I want us to have an honest and open beer relationship.
Gabe is 28, and works as a clerk in a paint store. Annie is 31, works at free music app company, and was once a singer in a rock band. It’s a Tuesday night in Santa Cruz, California, and Annie is sitting at the bar of a bowling alley where she’s been with co-workers. Gabe is there with his bowling team and has gone to get a beer. He starts talking to her. There’s playful banter and romantic sparks. They meet up again there the following Saturday.
That’s the familiar set up of author Dan Moyer’s engaging contemporary romantic comedy of the two-character Half Moon Bay. As Mr. Moyer’s lost souls get to know each other, personal secrets are revealed.
These revelations are sometimes dark but never seem like gratuitous theatrical gimmicks. Just the believable problems that real people could have. Moyer’s excellent dialogue contains so many sharp and wise lines that precisely delineate the characters. A great asset is that they’re spoken by two gifted actors who effortlessly make it appear as though that the play was written just for them.
With her expressive quavering voice, dark hair pulled up and jittery manner Keilly McQuail as Annie delivers a rich and empathetic performance. Ms. McQuail’s luminous stage presence makes her fascinating to watch at all times.
Kinetic Gabriel King is wiry, thin, and animated. Making use of his sorrowful eyes and terrific comic delivery, he is vastly compelling as Gabe. Mr. King’s veers from achieving laughs to exhibiting emotion with perfection.
The chemistry between Ms. McQuail and Mr. King is instantly palpable and propels the play to its satisfying conclusion that’s filled with surprises. After presenting so much evidence that these two belong together, Moyer builds suspense with plot detours as to whether they’ll stay together.
Director Jess Chayes’ staging wonderfully realizes the material with inspired straightforwardness. Mr. Chayes’ has achieved tender performances from the cast as well as visual reality for the actions.
Reid Thompson’s scenic design is outstanding with its elaborate details. A witty Roy Lichtenstein poster hangs on the wall of Annie’s messy and cluttered apartment. The bar is wood paneled and hung with bowling posters. Shelves with liquor bottles and bowling trophies adorn the walls. The bar itself is a clever recreation with high wooden chairs. Prominently placed is an old-time jukebox.
Snippets of songs by The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, Stevie Nicks, and The Beach Boys as well as the occasional crashing of pins are expertly blended through out the bar scenes by sound designer Janie Bullard.
Mike Inwood’s lighting design vibrantly captures the atmosphere of the two settings. From the apartment window, night is subtly replaced by sunlight.
Gauzy blouses, flowing slacks, and strategic jewelry are vivid elements of M. Meriwether Snipes’ representative costume design for Annie. Gabe is in worn jeans and a faded polo shirt that perfectly suit his character.
Passionately written, presented and performed, Half Moon Bay is a moving and entertaining treatment of Boy Meets Girl.
Those honesty games? Those do not ever end well. It’s like, I want to have fun and goof around and not get into a long and painful conversation on my deep insecurities about my weird ankles or hot sister or whatever.
Half Moon Bay (through June 4, 2016)
Lesser America at The Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.lesseramerica.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission