Half Moon Bay: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Boy meets girl (in a Santa Cruz bowling alley bar), makes inept attempt to pick her up. So far, ho-hum. Dan Moyer’s two-hander, however, is so un-insistently engaging, the actors’ embodiment of pursuer and pursued so appealing, that any concern about tired romantic tropes quickly dissipates. Of course both Gabe (Gabriel King) and Annie (Keilly McQuail) are somewhat damaged: Few endure their late twenties without getting scuffed up a bit. Just how much, in each case, is a question that Moyer teases out until the very last scene.
From the start, Annie—clearly a self-styled sophisticate, with her world-weary posture and sardonic default mode—feels obliged to school Gabe. “You’re just kind of going about it all pretty weird,” she says when he implores her to attend his next bowling tournament, the league championship. Dragging in late and drunk on the appointed night, she then must remind him that he has no claim on her. Indeed, Gabe’s embittered recriminations—one entails an elaborate pizza-delivery analogy—seem way out of proportion. Apparently the stakes were higher than she (or the audience) was led to believe.
Chemistry, along with a few more shots, suffices for her to invite him home (designer Reid Thompson effects an astonishing entr’acte makeover of Cherry Lane’s cramped studio space). It takes Gabe a moment to get over the as-advertised mess (“I thought you meant, like, girl-messy”), and soon, at Annie’s insistence, groping gives way to soul-baring rounds of Russian roulette—the gunless, drinking-game version, which Gabe suggests they turn into a variation on Truth or Dare. A number of tests ensue, and he rises to every challenge, from telling inane jokes—King radiates a Mike Birbiglia-ish sweetness—to improvising a supposedly seductive dance. “You can’t make me laugh,” Annie warns (the audience is under no such restrictions). As Annie keeps raising the bar, the question becomes, Who in fact is needier? Or, to put it differently, might their respective deficiencies prove a mutually beneficial match?
Such analysis misserves the free-wheeling originality of this incipient (maybe) love story. The script, studded with amusingly offbeat asides, could play well in theaters across the country, especially in the hands of a director as deft as Jess Chayes. It’s difficult, though, to imagine better enactors than the two currently negotiating a precarious bond in this modest premiere.—Sandy MacDonald
Cherry Lane Theater (Off Broadway). By Dan Moyer. Directed by Jess Chayes. With Gabriel King, Keilly McQuail. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.