Hunter Gatherers Invokes a Primal Urge
Hunter Gatherers, the current production by The Catastrophic Theater Company, is only the fourth run of the play since its debut in 2006. It’s cerebral, it’s visceral, it’s hysterically funny. I don’t mean that in a stuffy, traditional-theater sense — I mean really funny and full of food for thought.
The play is about convention. The conventions of marriage, work, love, sex, and modern life are all placed on the chopping block and dissected in horrid and hilarious detail. The cast consists of two married couples; old high school cronies who married in tandem on the same day, celebrating their anniversaries together. The hosting couple for this strangely ominous event are Richard, played by Greg Dean, and Pam, played by Charlesanne Rabensburg.
The play opens with Richard preparing to slaughter a lamb that will be imbibed on the evening of their wedding anniversary. His wife is understandably disturbed by this but still complies with Richard’s enthusiastic pleas. She is instructed to soothe the lamb while he cuts its throat. She disgusted by it, but Richard savors it.
The visiting couple are Tom, played by Troy Schulze, and Wendy, played by Amy Bruce. They are an equally mismatched pair. Tom is an anal retentive doctor with an excess of neuroses who resents his wife bitterly. Wendy is much more of a free spirit; a sexually liberated party animal at heart.
Ultimately the events that ensue over the course of the evening are the volatile conflicts and confessions of very unhappy people. They are in a state of malcontent having to do with their feelings of displacement and a sense of dissatisfaction with the modern world. Two of them feel the urge to hunt rather than be fed and desire nothing but pleasure. The other two are also strangers in their own land but so far removed from their animal urges that they don’t seem to realize it until it’s too late.
Richard wrestles Tom every year for title of “world’s strongest man.” Tom never wins. He’s uninterested in the conquest, but puts up with it because he can do nothing to stop it. Tom and Richard allude to the fact that these tests of strength hearken back to their high school days when the loser was sodomized by the victor. Again, Tom always being the loser. There is some brief reference to homoerotic sexual experiences that they both look back on fondly.
There is a good deal of sex in Hunter Gatherers. It goes from being suggested to being acted out vividly. There’s even a little attempted male-on-male rape. As the audience witnesses the overflowing sexuality of the more visceral characters and their inability to control their impulses, the play becomes undeniably arousing. The characters drink red wine throughout the play all the while discussing the rare, bloody, and freshly slaughtered lamb that has been prepared for dinner. Tom and Pam are horrified. Richard and Wendy are incensed, their libidos aflame. As soon as the lights came up for intermission I raced to the bar for a glass of red wine, almost as if on autopilot. I’m a meat eater and very much enjoy lamb, but even my date, a vegan, was feeling the same impulse to drink blood-red wine.
The theater is intimate. The acting was superb. The set was inventive. The play was executed masterfully. It was an unusually intense and entertaining evening at the theater. Needless to say, this is NOT one for the kiddos, so get a sitter and prepare for a hilarious evening peppered with awkward and uncomfortable moments throughout.
All of the performances of Hunter Gatherers are pay-what-you-can. I really admire Catastrophic Theater Company’s director, Jason Nodler, for this incredibly progressive approach. This attempt to extract some of the deterrents to theater-going among the younger crowd may just actually work. When I asked him about it he said it was less about money and more about getting butts in the seats. There you have it: no excuses for missing this one.