Monday, July 26, 2010

Hunter Gatherers

‘HUNTER GATHERERS’ absurdity in action at convergence continuum

Within the first five minutes of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s ‘HUNTER GATHERERS,’ now on stage at convergence-continuum, you are aware that this is not going to be a traditional play. A live lamb is in a cardboard box. As you watch, Geoffrey Hoffman, portraying the alpha-male Richard, chops the animal into morsel-sized pieces ready for cooking. Sound ghastly? In the hands of the actors, under the direction of Clyde Simon, what is repulsive turns out to be bizarrely humorous. That is, if you aren’t a member of PETA or a similar animals rights group.

‘HUNTER GATHERERS,’ the winner of both the 2007 ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award and the Will Glickman Award, is obviously not a play for everyone. Few scripts produced by con con are. There is a select audience which has tuned into Clyde Simon’s weird sense of humor and curiosity, who have become cult followers of the theatre. ‘HUNTER GATHERERS’ will satisfy their tastes (no pun intended).

Pam and Richard are hosting their best friends, Wendy and Tom, for a monthly dinner get-together. The animal sacrifice is followed by sex, violence, deception, wrestling, more sex, and dancing. This is an evening where the line between civilized and primal man is blurred, and where not everyone will survive long enough to enjoy the brownies for dessert. In fact, the ending makes Macbeth seem like a lark.

Nachtrieb has been compared to a modern Edward Albee. He examines repression and hypocrisy by dissecting motives and actions. For him, as for Albee, no taboo is beyond violation. But, in contrast to Albee, Nachtrieb uses excess outrageousness to make his absurdist point. He uses flipped out characters and extreme sexuality to examine the fine line between civilized behavior and animalistic actions.

Neanderthal Richard, intent on spreading his “man seed,” self-centered Wendy who wants a baby and relishes Richard’s sperm, Wendy’s geeky and suppressed homosexual husband Tom, and Richard’s mild-mannered wife, Pam, are the participants in this game of desperation. A game which has dire consequences.

The con con’s production is vivid, but unevenly paced. The deep intensity needed to really give the true absurdist message is on the surface, not in the fiber of the acting. The characters are caricatures, not real people, so identifying with them is difficult.

Though Geoffrey Hoffman is on the verge of maniacal, there is too much surface emotion, and a lack of alpha male consistency. Whether this is the fault of the script or the actor is debatable. The same goes for Laurel Johnson. She needs more earthy sensuality. This is a woman who wants a baby at all costs. Tom Kondilas is on target as the nerdy Tom who finally, in the midst of having sex with Pam, seems to accept who he is, but as it turns out, too late. Laurel Johnson’s naivety and sweetness were fine until she needed to do a stronger character twist to make the ending truly her personal denouement. Simon arranges for the participants to keep their clothes on, at least most of the time.

Jim Valore’s set design works well and Terrii Zernechel’s lighting is extremely effective.

Capsule Judgement: ‘HUNTER GATHERERS,’ as with many convergence shows, isn’t for everyone. It is worth the time for those who are interested in contemporary theatre, the messages of new authors, and aren’t offended by overt sexuality.