There’s a paper-thin veneer that separates us civilized folks from the more base and primitive selves that lurk just below the surface. Don’t believe it? Just have the power grid go down for a couple weeks and see how you and your neighbors start behaving.
In Hunter Gatherers by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, now being staged by convergence-continuum, the playwright throws two couples together at their annual wedding anniversary dinner. And it quickly turns into a raucously funny, highly sexualized farce that's played with loopily unhinged brio by the con-con cast.
Richard & Pam and Tom & Wendy shared a double wedding some years ago and now, in their mid-30s, they pursue apparently conventional urban lifestyles. Except that, from the first moment of the play at Richard and Pam's home, we realize the civilizing veneer has been lifted. Richard has brought home a live lamb, which remains unseen in a tall box, and proceeds to slit the animal’s throat so he can turn it into an entree.
From that point on, all bets are off as we are presented these characters’ true natures without any of the usual filtering. Wendy arrives by herself, since her physician husband is searching for a parking space, and we know within moments that their marriage is kaput, sexually and in every other way. Indeed, Wendy is hot for Richard and quickly tries to maneuver herself into his clutches.
Once Tom arrives, Richard wrestles him to the ground, symbolically pissing on him to claim his turf. And so it goes, abetted by the playwright’s clever and incisive dialog, until there is more than just psychological carnage, and a surprising survivor stumbles away to live another day in the jungle we call life.
The performances are both broad and subtle, and are divided evenly among the cast. On the broad side, Geoffrey Hoffman makes Richard a hyper-masculine stud-on-steroids, ready to fuck, kill or cook anything in sight. A putative artist, he soon decides his real art centers on crotch-related activities. Laurel Johnson’s Wendy is his female equivalent, swinging from manic highs to desperate lows, and only seeking to pork Richard at the first opportunity.
Those two hunters are married, as luck would have it, to a couple gatherers. As Tom, Tom Kondilas is sensible and restrained until a bedroom scene with Pam unleashes his submissive side, with unfortunate consequences. And Lauren B. Smith simmers effectively as Pam until all hell breaks loose in the second act.
Directed by Clyde Simon, Hunter Gatherers challenges our view of civilized behavior while making us laugh at our own artificial social constructs. And you leave the theater musing on how little it might take for any of us to be reduced to our more primitive instincts.
Through August 14, produced by convergence-continuum
at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074