BWW Reviews: Cabal Productions' HUNTER GATHERERS Delights, Shocks, and Amuses
Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has a distinctive and unique voice that makes for quality entertainment that encourages thought as much as it tickles our ribs. Currently, Cabal Productions is producing a hysterical production of his 2006 dark comedy HUNTER GATHERERS, which had a 2009 Houston Premiere with the Catastrophic Theatre and then returned in 2010 to the Catastrophic Theatre with script revisions. In its current state, the riotous play is an all you can eat buffet of betrayal, sexual awkwardness, blood, red wine, lust-filled passions, subverted gender roles, and a blurring of the lines between civilization and primal instincts.
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb sets the play in the apartment of Pam and Richard as they are hosting their best friends, Wendy and Tom, for the quartet's annual dinner party. Within the tumultuous group, there is a lot of history, denial, and disappointment, which awakens deeply repressed, dangerous, and chaotic primitive urges. The play opens with an animal sacrifice, and throughout the remainder of the evening, boundaries are haphazardly crossed as the audience watches decorum and civility crumble in the cramped, urban apartment.
Direction by John Patterson brings out the absurdity of the play's central conflicts. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's characters aren't exactly portraits of real humans; however, within the world he creates and the one John Patterson brings to life on stage at Midtown Art Center, the audience understands their motivations and finds their actions and reactions believable because they are grounded in a tangible amount of human truth. In doing this, the comedic highs leave us rolling in the aisles, the emotional lows tug at our heartstrings, and the delicious depravity leaves us frozen in place with our jaws on the floor (especially as dinner is being consumed).
Opening the play, William Bryant's Richard is contemplating the best way to butcher a lamb in a cardboard box. With a plucky zeal and the aid of Irma S. Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking, he enlists Pam to help him. Once the duo spills blood together, the pretenses of humanity begin to fall all around. William Bryant's Richard shifts from a bumbling average Joe into a virile Neanderthal hell-bent on spreading his seed. In his eyes and actions, sexually frustrated and perpetually aroused Wendy, played with indefatigable carnal vigor by Callista Clark, eclipses demure and polite Pam, played to perfection by Leighza Walker. As the action reaches its own climax, Leighza Walker as Pam delivers one of the most heartbreaking yet comedic boiling point freak-outs I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Somehow caught in the fray and keeping the production grounded in some semblance of reality is boring doctor Tom, played with affective subtly by Todd Greenfield.
As is the case with most productions at Midtown Art Center, the technical elements are minimal. With just a handful of instruments, the light design is mostly functional; however, red washes are used to highlight key moments in the plot. Set design offers audiences a sketch of an apartment, allowing our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Lastly, the ambient noise of Houston's own Midtown neighborhood outside of the theatre punctuates the performance with a healthy dose of realism.
Cabal Productions' production of HUNTER GATHERERS opened to an underwhelming house of roughly 14 patrons. Despite this, the hard work of the cast and crew pays off in the performance. This show and these talents combine to produce an evening of thought-provoking theatre that delights, shocks, and amuses.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
HUNTER GATHERERS, produced by Cabal Productions, runs at Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch Street, Houston, 77004 now through December 14, 2013. Performances are Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://cabalproductions.org.