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Hunter Gatherers an outrageously dark farce
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Hunter Gatherers an outrageously dark farce

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Hunter Gatherers
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through February 8


Rarely does one watch a play with a hand over a mouth or a jaw dropped in astonishment, but this might be your experience as you watch Hunter Gatherers by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb at Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET). The unique opening scene has a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary by personally slaughtering a lamb in their living room. That hysterical moment sets the stage for the rest of the improbable doings on stage for the next two hours.

This dark, farcical story might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who like their drama outrageous, it doesn't get more outrageous than this. Two couples, friends since grade school, married on the same day and traditionally celebrate their wedding anniversary together every year. It turns out that "friendship" might not be the appropriate word for their relationship.

Patrick Allcorn plays Richard, the artist, who still has to compete for domination physically, caveman-style. He is married to meek and pleasing Pam (Montana von Fliss), who dubiously says, "Aye aye, captain" to his commands. In comes Wendy (Hannah Victoria Franklin), who mirrors Richard's king of the jungle as queen, and her meek and pleasing husband, Tom (Ricky Coates), the doctor. Richard immediately challenges Tom to their annual physical wrestling match, which Tom always loses.

The couples fit the schoolyard stereotypes of the football player, the cheerleader, the nerd and the girl-next-door. It seems clear that the wrong couples married and they might be more successful switching partners. There are ugly revelations of marital stress and the wearing away of what used to be strong bonds.

The four work well as a team under director Desdemona Chiang. Scenic and lighting designer Evan Ritter creates a stark, modern apartment loft feeling with excellent use of compact space. Music from the '80s punctuates the scenes.

The veil of civilization is torn away and baser animal instinct is exposed. The urges to have sex, procreate, and dominate take over. The meekest of them all, von Fliss' Pam, has a delicacy you want to preserve, and hope that she finds a way to succeed in the end, through all the mayhem. Her character wants to believe in everything good, and her worst nightmare is to doubt her friends and loved ones.

Coates' Tom turned his back, early on, on his real "nerd" friends in favor of friends in name only who tease and ridicule him. His regrets are palpable. Franklin, as the vigorous Wendy, regrets marrying Tom and finding that he is infertile. She wants a baby in the worst way and is ready to abandon Tom to get one. Allcorn's Richard regrets focusing his sexuality only on one person. He's ready to sow his seed anywhere, in anyone, male or female, believing finally that this is what he was meant for.

The production might linger in your mind as you try to figure out exactly what Nachtrieb was saying. Or it might just make you snort, later, as you remember some of the outrageous physical comedy or the darker moments of strangeness. WET's reputation for edgy material is extended with this production. For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org or www.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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