The Interview: Jeffrey Hayenga Discusses Hal and Bee with Michael Raver
Actor Jeffrey Hayenga is one of those stage animals who lives for the connection he gets with a director, with a writer, his castmates and most certainly with the audience. Subtle communication is everything. While incredibly stalwart and fierce, he can, in the blink of an eye, bring an entire house to tears with heart-wrenching vulnerability. Having appeared in the original Broadway cast of The Elephant Man, toured with The Acting Company as well as making notable appearances on television shows like Star Trek: Enterprise and Bones, he is set to appear on a New York stage again in Hal And Bee which runs March 10 through March 31st at 59e59 Theaters.
Presented by Stable Cable Lab Co and New Light Theater Project, the play centers on an aging hippie couple desperate to maintain their bohemian footing against the backdrop of the sale of their Upper West Side apartment building and the strain of their own relationship.
MR: How did this role come to you?
JH: The role was a wonderful surprise and just reinforces the quixotic nature of this business! I have been a great admirer of Martin Moran and his incredible performances of his monologues The Tricky Part and All the Rage, so when The Barrow Group offered a course in “Personal Narrative” taught by Martin, I signed up immediately. It was in that class that I came to know the brilliant Candy Buckley as we each shared our own personal narratives. I didn’t know at the time, but Candy was doing readings of Max Baker’s play, Hal And Bee. When Candy was presented with a list of possible actors for the role of “Hal” she blessedly cemented my fate.
MR: What was the most challenging part of the rehearsal process?
JH: It is always the joy and the terror of a new play. You are diving into uncharted territory. There’s a looseness to the rehearsal process of an established classic. Your job is to find your way to a grand destination that has been charted and traveled many times. With a new play, the tension in rehearsal is palpable. Am I honoring this moment? Is this where that thread leads? Will I be able to sleep tonight or will I be mulling the whole rehearsal day over and over. It’s the 10 meter platform everyday. And you learn to love it when the play starts breaking through.
MR: How is it working with Sarah Norris?
JH: Okay! Finally a “soft ball” question. It’s been terrific. I’ve worked with three incredible women directors the last year. Meredith McDonough at Actors Theatre of Louisville (Circle Mirror Transformation) Yael Farber at DC Shakespeare Theatre (Salome) and now Sarah Norris. I am truly staggered as I look around at the world and wonder why equality has taken so long and try not to be defeated by how far we still have to go! It’s a cliche to say that women bring a different perspective. Everyone brings a different perspective, so why have 50% of the world’s perspectives been minimized? Okay, off my soap-box!
MR: The play deals with the aging process. Do you feel as an actor, someone whose appearance is evaluated, that this experience is amplified?
JH: I’ve known from day one that my appearance was going to be forever evaluated in this profession. Funny/Tragic story #1: My very first play in college was Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale directed by a graduate student. During rehearsals he came up to me and exclaimed his amazement at how evenly matched my facial features were left side and right. And then came the zinger, which was that this ultimately made me bland and forgettable. Of course things like that stay with you. Growing older and more “charactery” has always been a joy in my life! And in this profession, as you age, older roles are opening up as you inevitably say goodbye to the younger ones and surprisingly (or not) I’ve found them to be more interesting. “Hal” is an aging “literary genius/hippie” who tries to stay “young” by retreating into “Social Anxiety Disorder” and “Agoraphobia” as he desperately searches for his voice in the hermetically sealed world of blogging. The phrase “how au courant” comes to mind, so aging be damned!
MR: Why do you think this piece is particularly relevant now?
JH: I think in a way we are all suffering to various degrees with trauma these days. It all started post 9/11 as our initial forays into Afghanistan and Iraq grew and grew until now the entire middle east is in flames, along with the ongoing insanity of our current political morass. And marital relationships have always been the “canary in the mines.” Hal And Bee occupies a small corner of this narrative and asks us to breathe. To try and find our personal centers again. It’s a small step that just might have big implications.
MR: What do you want audiences to walk away with?
JH: My love of audiences goes so deep that I would never try to navigate their perceptions in any way. I had a theatre professor who hated Death Of A Salesman because he thought that it enabled the plutocrats of the world to sit in an audience and feel Willy Loman’s pain and then go out into the world feeling they’d done something while performing their daily greed as usual. While that’s not necessarily my opinion, it certainly energized him. I think all we can ask of an audience is that they show up and try to meet us halfway. We’re tillers of the human soul. Planting seeds is what we do. At the end of the play, an oak tree is going to walk out with a turnip. So be it!
For tickets to Hal And Bee, visit www.59e59.org
Michael Raver’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray was produced by Sonnet Repertory Theatre at the Signature Theatre Center in 2012, and a reading of his pre-WWII adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, featuring Judy Kaye, was presented by the Pearl Theatre Company. His play, Fire on Babylon, was nominated for The Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation Award for Playwriting, as well as being named a semifinalist for The O’Neill Conference in 2015. Babylon received two workshops in 2016, first at Great River Shakespeare Festival and then at The Fresh Fruit Festival in New York, where it won multiple awards from All Out Arts. His play Evening, was a two-time finalist for Red Bull’s New Play Festival. His play Quiet Electricity was named a semifinalist at The O’Neill Conference in 2017 and was part of Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Work Series in 2018. His work has been presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, Sonnet Repertory Theater, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, The Martha Graham Company, Playhouse on Park and many others. He served as a judge for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction for three years and regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV, NYC Monthly, Hamptons Monthly, Playbill, Dance Magazine, CoolHunting.com, The Huffington Post, Art 511 Magazine, Imagista and Nature’s Post.