“HUNTER GATHERERS”: DARWINIAN LOVE STORY AT GARAGE CLOSES JULY 28By Greggory Moore
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is not breaking any new ground with Hunter Gatherers by playing on the Darwinian idea that the human species is not discontinuous with kingdom Animalia, focusing on the subtopics of the male drive to aggress and possess and the female drive to submit and breed — and how those drives sometimes conflict with societal veneer. But that doesn’t mean he’s not having any fun with them. And the Garage Theatre does well by injecting the proper ferality into the proceedings.
On a night in 2005, married couples Pam & Richard (Kim Bush and Beau McCoy) and Wendy and Tom (Stephanie Dorian and Bill Wood) come together to commemorate their continuing unconditional love for each other—an annual tradition they have observed since since they went to prom together 17 years ago. Trouble is, they may have been paired up poorly (owing partly to a game of Spin the Bottle): Richard and Wendy react to life with a primal flair, while Richard and Pam respond more to “civilized” behavior.
The key role in this dynamic is Richard, who lives life with troglodytic elegance. McCoy is brilliant in his portrayal from lights-up, as he prepares to slaughter a lamb for the anniversary feast. He’s magnificent when he wallows in brutish male dominance (occasionally overtaken by a malignant smile that is downright creepy), playing to testosterone so powerfully that his performance would be a full workout even were it not full of rigid, muscle-pumping gesticulations and cavorting. But he’s equally capable when he’s dialed down, as well as in his subtlest of reactions.
Just as the alpha male is the center of the primate world, so it goes in Hunter Gatherers. Bush does well with Pam’s repression (as well as in a couple of important moments where her own ferality gets the best of her), obviously cowed by Richard’s forcefulness. But it has the opposite effect on Wendy, and Dorian plays her with the proper carnality. Wood has the least obvious job. He’s playing a very stilted man whom it turns out may relish being dominated, and on opening night he may have been a bit too stiff. A little more malice, a little more glee in his subjugation might be useful.
Director Matt Anderson has blocked out the action well (although the fight scenes aren’t great—a situation not helped by the Garage’s concrete flooring—and getting across the carnal with so much clothing on asks the audience to suspend a little too much disbelief), which takes place on a lovely and pragmatic set (kudos to Robert Young and Levi Gadson), the most extensive effort of this sort the Garage has ever made.
An essential part of the mise en scène is the olfactory. During the cooking of the lamb, as the scent wafts around you (don’t fret, herbivores: the smell is generated by palatable means), you dial into the primal sensorial part of the human animal—an explicitly important theme. I was sorry the actors weren’t heavily perfumed (perhaps Anderson might add this element?), but was glad that the tipplers around me helped bring me the aroma of the wine being drunk onstage.
This is the Garage Theatre’s 50th show, and it’s a good example of what the troupe brings to the Long Beach theatre scene. It’s like the kids putting on plays in the backyard have kept at it all these years, charting their own theatrical course in their minimalist space and not-so-minimal talent.
HUNTER GATHERERS THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $18; $15 FOR STUDENTS & SENIORS; CLOSING NIGHT + PARTY $20 • THROUGH JULY 28