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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Hunter Gatherers and Waiting for Godot

Hunter Gatherers
Sarah Sanford, Ross Beschler, Amanda Schoonover and Matt Pfeiffer
Theatre Exile's Hunter Gatherers is rude, nasty, and not for the squeamish. It's also a whole lot of fun. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's comedy takes theories about the nature of humanity and carries them to a ludicrous extreme. Yet absurd as it is—and not one moment of it is remotely believable—it all hangs together beautifully, thanks to direction and performances that are completely committed.

Speaking of committed, that's what a few of these characters probably deserve to be. Richard and Pam have invited their best friends since high school, Wendy and Tom, to an annual dinner party—although in the seventeen years since graduation, the two married couples have drifted apart. All seems cheerful on the surface, but this annual dinner has become little more than a ritual. Richard has decided to serve lamb for dinner—but he's also decided to purchase a live lamb and slaughter it in the living room. Amazingly, that's not even his most offensive action: By the end of the first act, he's had sex in the kitchen with Wendy and thoroughly emasculated Tom in a wrestling match.

Richard is a primitive man, in more ways than one: "This is not a silly ritual," he says about the wrestling match."This ritual is life." The prim Pam ("the most good person I know," according to Wendy) is embarrassed by her husband's actions, but randy Wendy wants to have Richard's child. Wendy's also had her fill of the repressed and depressed Tom, whose biggest choices in life revolve around deciding where to park his car. ("Driving is the worst part about living in the city," says Pam. "Well, that and all the sadness.") Eventually, each person makes some big decisions—not just about what type of mate they want, but about whether to embrace their savage side.

Hunter Gatherers is a farce that spoofs a rather dark view of human nature. While it may seem to endorse that view a bit too much, it's hard to take its point of view seriously because Nachtrieb doesn't take it seriously either. The characters aren't particularly sympathetic; they're more cartoonish than realistic. But, like the best cartoons, they're pretty funny, and they're played with over-the-top gusto by Ross Beschler (Richard), Amanda Schoonover (Pam), Sarah Sanford (Wendy) and Matt Pfeiffer (Tom).

Director Deborah Block's staging is as relentless as the characters, and doesn't let up for a moment. The only problem with the staging is forced by the limited playing area of the Mainstage at the Adrienne. Most of the action takes place in Richard and Pam's living room, but Nachtrieb's instructions also call for a bedroom, which set designer Meghan Jones has placed near the rear of the stage. As a result, many of the physical gags take place on the edge of the stage, making it difficult for people in the last few rows to see what's going on during some of the show's best moments.

But most theatergoers will be laughing too hard to complain. Hunter Gatherers is a dark and outrageous comedy-filled show with lots of raw energy and lots of laughs.

Hunter Gatherers plays through November 22, 2009 and is presented by Theatre Exile at the Mainstage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available by calling 215-218-4022 or online at www.theatreexile.org.

Photo: Paola Nogueras


Down the hall from Hunter Gatherers, at the Adrienne's Playground space, is a very different kind of comedy. Amaryllis Theatre Company is producing Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a show that, while it might be a literary classic, is definitely not as much of a crowd pleaser as Hunter Gatherers. Beckett's knotty work is always going to be off-putting for a lot of theatergoers, and this lackadaisical production isn't going to win it any new fans.

Michael P. Toner and Buck Schirner make a pretty good comic team as Vladimir and Estragon, the tramps who are fated to wait and wait for a mysterious figure who may never arrive. They have good chemistry, and while they don't have much pizzazz, they do a fine job with the slapstick routines. But the production nearly grinds to halt when Lynn Manning arrives as the domineering Pozzo. Manning is completely miscast; he barks his lines angrily, displays no feel for Beckett's poetic dialogue, and does not seem remotely interested in connecting with his fellow actors. As a result, the entire act one sequence with Pozzo—always the most inscrutable section of the play—becomes unbearably tedious. It should be noted that Manning fares better during act two, in the sequence where a newly blinded Pozzo returns; Manning is also blind, and having him say a line like "The blind have no sense of time" is undeniably affecting. But by then it's too late to save the show.

In order to connect with modern audiences, Godot needs to be presented with clarity and insight, but directors Tom Reing and Mimi Kenney Smith don't bring much of either to the proceedings. A critic in the 1950s famously wrote that Godot is "a play in which nothing happens, twice"—but that doesn't mean the directors can't give the play some spark. Even Millie Hiibel's costumes are misguided: while Vladimir and Estragon are appropriately clad as old-fashioned hobos, Pozzo is wearing a sleek, modern suit from a completely different era. This makes Pozzo seem even more disconnected from the rest of the cast.

David Stanger works hard but adds little to the proceedings as Pozzo's tragic slave Lucky. Noel Smith, a local third grader, plays the boy who delivers the news of Godot's whereabouts. On opening night, he was too quiet; he needed to project more to make his lines heard. Still, he's sure to improve by the end of the run. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the production.

Waiting for Godot plays through November 22, 2009 and is presented by Amaryllis Theatre Company at the Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices are $10 (with a discount available for groups) and are available by calling 877-260-1126 or online at www.amaryllistheatre.org.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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