Talkinbroadway.com Review - Hunter Gatherersposted by Nick Cernoch at 11:31 AM
You go to the butcher and buy some lamb for dinner. Practically speaking, there isn't a whole lot of difference between you buying the lamb from a butcher and you slaughtering the lamb yourself (it certainly doesn't make any difference to the lamb) . But buying the lamb from a butcher (think about that word) is civilized, while killing it yourself, well, isn't. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play, Hunter Gatherers (in its LA premiere) begins by crossing that line, when a normal, everyday couple, unable to get a fresh enough lamb for a special dinner, slaughters a lamb in their normal, everyday living room. And once that line has been crossed, Nachtrieb's dark comedy gamely sees just how far it can go.
It's a dinner party. Four friends—two couples—are getting together to celebrate an anniversary. With the evening so special that it demands an animal sacrifice, one might expect this to be the anniversary of some really creepy event (a blood oath of some sort?). But, as the play soon explains, it is simply the couples' joint wedding anniversary. There's nothing creepy here—a fact which, when you think about it, is really creepy.
Richard is the evening's chef—he's the one who insisted on ultra-fresh lamb, despite the misgivings of his wife, Pam. Richard fancies himself an artist, both in the kitchen and out, and he is driven by his desire to create something better than everything that has ever gone before. And, coupled with his desire to create, Richard also possesses the desire to dominate and destroy. He finds it necessary to prove his manhood by wrestling his friend, Tom, even though the nerdy physician poses no physical threat. It's like a bad episode of that High School Reunion show where, instead of the bully apologizing for hurting his victim's feelings, he goes right back to his aggressive, humiliating ways. Doug Newell's loud, energetic, domineering Richard starts off the play as just a little bit on the primal side of things, and he's absolutely terrific as he descends into full-on caveman.
Richard is matched not by his own wife, but by Tom's wife, Wendy. Wendy (Vonessa Martin) is insanely passionate about everything. (When Wendy's knock at the door isn't immediately answered, she immediately freaks out because Pam and Richard must be dead.) But she feeds Richard's urges and incites him to go further; she's nearly orgasmic at the scent of his cooking lamb—oh, and she'd like to have his child.
Pam has an innocence to her, and a serious case of denial (which leads to a hilarious first act closer). Sara Hennessy's portrayal starts off a bit stilted, as though some of Richard and Wendy's heightened responses are making it difficult for her to remain normal. But her performance picks up as the play progresses, and the more we know about Pam's own repressed urges, the better she gets. Tom (Steven Schub) is also hiding a baser self, but he so desperately doesn't want to lose the veneer of civilization, he keeps trying to take the high road of mutual respect with Richard—a path that can't possibly end well for him.
Nachtrieb's play is smart and funny, as he allows his characters to explore their archetypes in different situations. When Richard tells the others of his slaughter of the lamb, Pam still weeps over the death of the animal, Wendy is excited by the sensual pleasures of the meal, and Tom thinks it's a Health Code violation.
Directed with the usual Furious Theatre Company flair by Dámaso Rodriguez, the play is alternately intense and hilarious; and, as with other Furious productions, the cast works together with an apparent level of trust that enables them to push limits with each other with conviction. It results in a fine example of Furious's work—an impressively engaging production of an edgy new play.
Hunter Gatherers runs at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre through February 21, 2009. For tickets and information, see www.furioustheatre.org.
-Reviewed by Sharon Perlmutter
(Pictured above - Doug Newell and Sara Hennessy, photo by Anthony Masters)