Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Slaughtering Portrayal of Two Couples in a Dinner Party from Hell
San Francisco's prime comedy group Killing My Lobster is presenting its first ever full-length comedic play, Hunter Gatherers, written by San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. The group has been compared to the Second City comedy group and has been presenting sketch comedy in this city for ten years. They have now ventured into presenting a full two-and-a-half hour dark comedy that goes over the top with food lust, carnal secrets and one hell of a lot of violence.
Playwright Nachtrieb says that he likes to see comfortable well-fed people made uncomfortable. He most certainly succeeds with this premise. In an interview with Maureen Bogues of the Chronicle he said, "I definitely say things in the play that I wouldn't say in person." The up-and-coming playwright has written a dazzling dark comedy that will have you howling in the aisles.
Hunter Gatherers' lead characters Richard (Jon Wolanske) and Pam (Melanie Case) make George and Martha of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seem average. Richard, who must have taken several Werner Erhard Seminal Training Courses in the 1970s, is the prime asshole of the world. He is the kind of guy you would not want to spend a social evening with.
Richard and Pam are preparing to entertain their two best friends from high school, Tom (John Kovacevich) and Wendy (Alexis Lezin). Each year Richard throws a "fabulous" dinner party for the couple. Last year he prepared a "gourmet" dinner of turducken: a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. Get the message on where this very hilarious farce is going? Richard wants the freshest lamb meat available. He is unhappy that the lamb cuts did not look fresh at the local meat market so he has purchased a "live" lamb which arrives in a large white carton box. He proceeds to cut up the lamb, which he named Carl before the slaughter, in the living room of their city apartment. (No real animals were hurt during this performance.) This lamb-killing gives you the first clue about the vicious verbal assaults that will be flying once the guests arrive.
Tom is a doctor and a first class nerd who must find the perfect parking space for his Civic in a San Francisco area where parking is a premium. As a result, the verbose Wendy arrives first, full of energy and talking up a storm. She is one take-charge gal and you can see she wears the pants in her relationship with Tom. Tom arrives much later after finding the perfect parking space.
Eventually, we find out that Tom has secret sexual desires, since both Richard and Tom had many sleepovers during high school with Richard being the prime alpha male. Ferocious verbal and physical abuses come from Richard and Wendy who seem to have a thing together against Tom throughout the long evening. Richard's passive wife just stands on the side and lets Richard rave and rant, talking a lot in the first person as if he is "king of the world." He talks about spreading his "seed" to all manner of human, male and female - and maybe the animal world - to propagate the earth. He wants to see a lot of little Richards running around.
Four excellent actors portray this dysfunctional group. Jon Wolanske (Word for Word's 4 Adverbs) is a power house as the egocentric man from hell. He is Hitler, Stalin and the devil from The Omen all rolled up in one character, with sparks flying everywhere. John Kovacevich (many KML shows) is a perfect foil for the shenanigans of Jon. He reacts perfectly to each verbal and physical abuse thrown at him. He gives a terrific understated performance as the nerd.
Alexis Lezin (Five Fights) gives a crowd pleasing performance as she talks in unstoppable similes. There is a maniacal energy about her performance. Melanie Case (member of KML since 2003) is just right as Richard's mousey wife, who seems to be the only normal person in the foursome.
Erik Flatmo has designed a good, realistic two-tier set of an apartment that could be anywhere in this city, and the lighting by Christopher Studley is very bright to give the play the rawness that it deserves. Tracy Ward's direction is excellent and the chemistry among the four is right on the mark. The fight and wrestling scenes are very real.