By Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
The Catastrophic Theatre
April 1, 2009
What if some of the gang from Lord of the Flies got off that island, went to high school, the prom, got married, and thew a dinner party? Peter Sinn Nachtrieb explores just such territory in his punchy black comedy Hunter Gatherers at The Catastrophic Theatre. Violence and high school buddies always make a raucous blend. So, what's for dinner? A freshly slaughtered lamb.
Pam, a demure, ladylike, doormat of a wife, goes along with her loopy alpha spouse Richard in his plan to make the evening special with a fresh kill. Nachtrieb nails the infantilization of coupling. As the baby lamb gets offed, Richard coos “You are my skipper.” Pam returns the babytalk, “You are my boat.” The guest list? Tom and Wendy, Olympic passive aggressive gold medalists. Wendy seethes and slinks about while Tom worries about a good parking space. Both couples tick down their own internal time bombs that go off gangbusters during the play. Prepare yourselves squeamish types.
Nachtrieb riffs on getting in touch with one's primordial side with a graphic novelist's touch, lending a cartoon feel that gets everyone chuckling during the most grim moments. All four are insufferable, yet each in their own whacked out way. By the end of the play, the audience roots for their demise, but all in good fun. Really, one downside to finding one's inner animal is one really messy apartment.
The cast chomps on this play with a manic level of bestial glee. Charlesanne Rabensburg bestows the timid Pam with all the tension of a volcano ready to explode. And when she does blow, look out, there's one less pulse in the room. Awkwardness has never been this volatile. Amy Bruce goes all Liz Taylor cat-in-heat as the lusty Wendy. Learning the running-with-knives lesson the hard way, Bruce shines in her hilarious death scene, where she nonchalantly reminds Pam to hire someone to clean up the carnage. Greg Dean brings full-on full-frontal energy to Richard, the feral husband, giving new meaning to arrested development. Troy Schulze gives Tom THE doctor a deadpan sting. Only death wakes this guy up.
Just over a year old, Catastrophic Theatre lives up to its name with this slick production. TCT artistic director Jason Nodler directs with necessary attack, keeping the pace brisk, the tension fierce and the satire crisp. Keven Holden's sleek gray apartment creates a neutral landing spot for all the blood and guts.
At the end, dear Pam, standing amidst a Shakespearian corpse heap, finally finds her footing. Leaving the freshly baked brownies behind (good for you Pam!), the little skipper turns her back to the wreckage of civilization, and walks slowly into a magical forest that mysteriously appeared behind the gray curtain. It's the cowboy walking into the sunset all over again, the lady beast has finally found her habitat. Apparently, the meek do inherit the earth. Pam, with innocence intact, heads back to nature to hunt and gather, of course. It's dreamy, funny, and a fitting crescendo for this bacchanalian orgy. Face it folks, we are all just passing for domesticated creatures, and are only one leg of lamb away from our more basic instincts.
Winner of the 2006 Will Glickman Award and the Steinberg Award from the American Theatre Critics Association, Hunter Gatherers finds its strength through a mix of verbal and physical outrage. Nachtrieb's smart banter bites in all the right places; it's witty, clever and wildly entertaining. His language rings with a kind of Albee-esque rhythm, where things unravel at a no-turning-back clip. Some plays politely leak their delicate ideas; this one slobbers all over you. It seems the Lord of the Flies fab four never did get off that island in the end. Instead, they stew in their own delirium, and what better metaphor for doing that than a dinner party. Entertaining equals danger here. Now, pass the lamb.