By Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Directed by Ryan Gladstone. A Staircase Theatre production. At the Havana Theatre on Thursday, October 30. Continues until November 15
Sitting in the dark during a scene change, I noticed that my body was in a state of deep-down, cellular joy. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers is hilarious and this Staircase Theatre production is sometimes inspired. I have the best job in the world.
In the opening scene of Nachtrieb’s script, Richard and Pam, a young Bay Area couple, are preparing to have their long-time friends Wendy and Tom over for dinner. And the first thing that Richard and Pam do in their stylish loft is slaughter a lamb. Okay, it’s the theatre: they pretend to slaughter a lamb. But we’ve been served: starting with dinner, Nachtrieb is going to expose the animal impulses that, for the most part, we barely contain.
Nachtrieb divides his characters into hunters and gatherers. Richard, who sculpts “big, long things” out of metal, is such a hunter that when Tom shows up, he wrestles him to the floor to prove his dominance. Tom, the gatherer, agrees to a rematch “only if there’s a written portion”.
As the evening progresses, violence and sex start rampaging around the loft like unleashed beasts—and things get increasingly surreal. Wendy, a hunter, wants babies, but Tom is infertile. As Wendy puts it, “Every single sperm in his nuts is a retard.” Pam doesn’t want kids: she’s afraid of making parenting mistakes. So when the two women get into a battle over a freezer bag full of Richard’s sperm, Wendy shrieks, “What are you going to do with it, paper mache?”
Comedy is all about appetites and Nachtrieb doesn’t hold back. Some of the funniest lines leap out when the characters dare to speak their subtexts. One fabulous little run kicks off when Pam says, of Richard and Wendy, “I love them.” In the script, Tom’s reply looks like this: “I love them dead. (Beat.)/Bad joke, sorry. (Beat.)/I just want them to die now. (Beat.)/Kidding.”
Peter Carlone, who’s playing Tom, is such a fantastic comic actor that, any minute now, the movies are going to discover him and that’s going to be a very good thing—for the movies anyway. His Tom is so emotionally true that the comic spin Carlone puts on him looks effortless. There’s a bit of business that involves a sweater: wait for it. It made me stomp my feet.
Playing Richard, Jay Clift is also raucously funny. While Carlone’s performance is sly, Clift’s is all bellow all the time—and it works. Richard is a loudmouth after all, but, inhabiting Clift’s body, he’s a thinking, feeling loudmouth: during Clift’s pauses, you can see the big gears clunking around inside Richard’s head.
The women’s performances are also effective, but a tad more self-conscious. Pippa Mackie’s Pam is very funny and she’s full of genuine passion, which is impressive given the outsize demands of the script, but the portrait feels a bit self-contained, at the moment, as opposed to responsive. Mackie will get funnier as she gets more freewheeling. And, especially in the early going on opening night, many of Maryanne Renzetti’s reactions as Wendy felt more predetermined than spontaneous. She’s strong enough that she doesn’t upset the balance, though.
Emerging set designer Carolyn Rapanos has wrought a virtual miracle, creating several stylish playing areas within the tiny Havana Theatre space.
Kudos to director Ryan Gladstone for realizing so many of this script’s strength. Crafting comedy is hard. Enjoying it is easy.