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Review: 'Hunter Gatherers' at Furious Theatre Company

January 29, 2009 |  3:00 pm

Hunter_gatherers_1 If you think that getting in touch with your inner primitive is the ideal antidote to the sterility of  modern civilization, San Francisco-based playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's "Hunter Gatherers" urges you to reconsider. In a razor-sharp staging from Furious Theatre Company, Nachtrieb's bitingly hilarious black comedy spares neither savages nor saints as a polite dinner party devolves into an orgy of pent-up rage, sex and bloodshed.

An exotic gourmet meal is the annual tradition with which two 35-year-old couples who've known each other since high school celebrate their enduring friendship, but this year chef Richard (Doug Newell) has taken foodie obsession with the freshest ingredients to new extremes. Perched over a large cardboard box in the center of their upscale urban loft, butcher's knife in hand, he coaxes his reluctant wife, Pam (Sara Hennessy), to help him slaughter the bleating lamb they'll be serving later on to disaffected Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and her milquetoast doctor husband Tom (Steven Schub).

This pagan sacrifice is but the opening volley in the escalating mayhem that unfolds once the guests arrive. With abundant irony and well-turned barbs, Nachtrieb's sharply crafted dialogue follows in Edward Albee's footsteps, peeling away layers of well-mannered repression and hypocrisy as the foursome succumb to their basest impulses. In his determination to leave no taboo unviolated, however, the still-maturing playwright is at times seduced by cleverness into outrageous excess at the expense of continuity and coherence, even by the internal logic of this absurdist context.

Dámaso Rodriguez's relentlessly paced staging builds suspense with the visceral engagement of a cinematic thriller and draws nicely realized characters from the entire cast. Hennessy in particular parlays superb deadpan naivete into a journey of self-discovery through the dark corners of Pam's psyche -- a journey that ultimately takes on metaphysical dimensions. As the bodies pile up, there's ample opportunity to employ her cookbook's advice for calming the passing souls of slaughtered lambs with stories of magic and happiness.

-- Philip Brandes

"Hunter Gatherers," Furious Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 21. $30. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Photo: Doug Newell and Sara Hennessy. Credit: Anthony Masters.


 

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