Time to go vegan
Here’s a dinner tip from Hunter Gatherers: Don’t have the lamb.
The latest production at Capital Stage is the Sacramento premiere of a work by Bay Area playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Hunter Gatherers is an outrageous, hilarious and very, very dark look at contemporary urban life and the way that civilization fails at civilizing us.
The play opens with dinner-party preparations as unrestrained chef Richard (Cassidy Brown) and his far more restrained wife, Pam (Kelley Ogden), start cooking for their oldest, dearest friends. Think of how many times in the last two years you’ve read a lifestyle-section story about foodies learning to butcher their own meat for a good idea of what ensues.
Richard is an artist of the primal type, engaging life with gusto. His wife, on the other hand, just wants the perfect shower; one in which the loofah exfoliates but doesn’t abrade, and her husband doesn’t come into the bathroom to pee.
Their friends are equally mismatched. Wild-child Wendy (Katie Rubin) has just about had it with her fastidious husband Tom (Jonathan Rhys Williams, who also directs).
And just when you think you’ve figured out the consequences of the mushroom-stuffing Wendy and Richard take off to the kitchen to collaborate on, well, here come a series of twists, turns and incredibly dark, adult comedy.
Well, it feels like a comedy. Given that it ends with bodies instead of weddings, there’s something strange about the laughter. But absurdity rules the day, and frankly, the oenophile with first-rate crystal who rants about contemporary culture’s lack of authenticity certainly deserves whatever caveman-clubbed drubbing he gets.
As Richard, Brown is a hilarious but subtle parody of the guy who gets the attention. He’s a pansexual, energetic ball of confusion with artistic pretensions. Is he a product of culture, or is he just an overgrown schoolyard bully turned rapist? Brown keeps his character on the edge, which allows him to be funny rather than frightening, and it’s a surprisingly delicate performance.
Ogden, always powerful, makes use of a face that seems to control every muscle—she is, among local actresses, the best at showing the inner life of her character with just a twitch of the mouth or a quirk of the eyebrow. As Pam, she undergoes what is less transformation and more devolution. She doesn’t just abandon her “nice girl” carapace, she butchers and eats it.
Rubin has less in the way of personality changes to demonstrate, but she does frustration very well, and her embrace of madness is less startling than exhilarating. Her purpose never changes, and if she’s a slave to biology, she’s certainly enjoying it.
But perhaps the strangest—and most successful—characterization is performed by Williams, who immerses himself in nebbish Tom. Even his attempt to act out (which requires him to provoke Pam into unleashing herself) fails.
The set and lighting, by Steve Decker, is nothing short of gorgeous, and Brad Thompson’s sound design is a producer’s dream: It advances the story without intruding. Always thoroughly top-notch, the troupe at Capital Stage has outdone themselves with this savage piece.
Ultimately, Hunter Gatherers is a story about rage at the stresses of civilization, but like all good parables, it makes clear that the consequences of abandoning all our constraints are far worse than our frustration at behaving our selves. Devolution is not pretty; it’s bloody in a fashion far more dangerous than simply trying the steak tartare.