Sunday, April 17, 2011

Theatre review: "Hunter Gatherers" at Bricolage- Sunday 17th April 2011

Bricolage Production Company offers a special treat just in time for Easter. It’s a play which begins with the sacrifice of a lamb and proceeds to nail the whole conception with fanatic devotion. The offering is Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers whose title may suggest some kind of anthropological discourse on primitive tribal experiences, but actually posits a modern day parallel in which several human beings revert to cave-person- like rituals and survival tactics. The result roars with gusto and howls with hilarity.

Lion-hearted Richard is preparing to slaughter and then roast an innocent, dewy-eyed, fuzzy, little, bleating creature, reminding us meat-eaters, lest we forget, that people kill animals to create mouth-watering meals. Richard’s wife Pam acquiesces sadly since the forthcoming supper serves as an annual rite of communion with long-time friends Tom, a doctor and Wendy, his wife, whose relationship has long been strained dues to Wendy’s passion and Tom’s timidity and reasonableness. As they gather, Richard and Wendy hunt a reason to be alone together and practice conjugal variations causing Tom to consider murder, if only he hadn’t taken doctor’s vows. Soon the four of them are regurgitating secrets from the past. Such as how Wendy cherishes the joy of sharing the revelations of first menstruation with Pam. Or how Richard and Tom recall the mutual discoveries of their own sweaty teen-age bodies. We learn too that Richard conceives himself as some kind of Johnny Human-seed regretting how, in the past, he always extended himself to support the latex industry instead of peopling the world with self- replicas. Overall, things get way out of hand.

In Hunter Gatherers, superbly directed and realized by Jeffrey Carpenter, the cast surges with talent, in constantly off-the wall performances which nonetheless seem like humans rather than cartoons. These characters, as in the best comedies, take themselves seriously and can’t help it if they lose control. Newly-arrived-in-Pittsburgh Jonathan Visser astonishes with his loony, vital and believable version of Richard. Meanwhile, as Wendy, Amy Landis has tremendous, non-stop panache and style. Michael Fuller plays Tom with a deeply sincere projection of the man’s earnest vulnerability within which lies the potential to believably erupt into comic and surprising dimensions. Amid all such vigorous delights, Tressa Glover has the more challenging role of modest, self-effacing Pam. On opening night she hadn’t arrived at something as definitive as have the rest of the actors, as if too influenced by so much high-volume intensity. Instead of shouting so often she would serve the play and the character better by making her gently sympathetic.

At the center of this whole expedition into the wild, writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has mined non-stop funny ideas and dialogue. This is the second example of his invention we’ve seen recently in this territory, the previous one not long ago, Boom, produced by Off the Wall Theatre. Keep his name in mind and wait with delight to see what next he has for us.

This important advisory: there is an open range of adult language and a clear-cut display of graphic violence starting with slaughter of meat on the hoof. Don’t bring the kids.

Hunter Gatherers keeps on coming through May 7th at Bricolage, 937 Liberty Avenue downtown. Tickets and info: and 412/381 6999

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