Hal (Jeff Hayenga), a former best-selling author, hasn’t written anything for decades. He spends his days in his pleasant Upper West Side apartment (bravo set designer Brian Dudkiewicz) talking back to his TV, writing a blog and smoking pot. He survives on various government handouts, depending mostly on his wife.
Bee (Candy Buckley) is the family breadwinner, going out every day to an office job she despises. She drinks a bit too much and occasionally smokes regular cigarettes, much to the chagrin of their daughter, Moon (Lisa Jill Anderson), a pot-selling student whose problems include the environment, her school costs and an iffy romantic life. She is her dad’s main pot supplier.
Hal and Bee are confronted with a letter stating that their building has been sold. Since they are rent controlled, they are offered a buyout which causes even more friction in this fractious household. Hal is adamant about staying. Bee fantasizes about a house in the country, an escape from her boring, soul-stealing job.
Acting as a freelance Greek Chorus, the exterminator, referred to as the Bug Man (Ian Poake), provides homey, ethnic advice in his short visit which has sad consequences.
Baker’s talent is in finding each character’s voice and understanding that a decades-old relationship has its ups and downs. Hal and Bee are constantly at each others’ throats, but it is clear that they love each other completely. Their shared hippie/liberal past is the bedrock on which their marriage is built.
Baker’s lines are spiky and colorful, often dark, sometimes banal, but his portrait of these two and the two lesser characters is always illuminating and full of real emotion. The fade-out, a quiet revelatory moment, is simply lovely—and sad.
All the acting is first rate, particularly the lead couple. Hayenga’s Hal would have been surly and unbearable except for his skill at making him a complex figure. Buckley’s Bee is just as likable. When she describes her fantasies, it’s difficult to deny she believes in them all the while knowing how futile her dreams are.
Genevieve V. Beller’s costumes are perfect. Michael O’Connor’s lighting makes the most of the fine set and the many moods of the play.
Director Sarah Norris brought out all of the complex subtext and richness of these characters who could easily have been bothersome and cliched.
Hal & Bee (through March 31, 2018)
Stable Cable Lab Co. and New Light Theater Project
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission