Monday, February 4, 2008

Theater Check-In: Hunting and Gathering

I recently had the opportunity to check out a preview performance of a new off-Broadway play, Brooke Berman's Hunting and Gathering at Primary Stages. I originally went with the intent to scope out a film legend who was supposed to be in attendance (I won't say who, but his name rhymes with Schmaul Schnewman) but instead of being bored found myself enjoying the show quite a bit. I don't think the show is going to alter the theater world for all-time, but it is a keenly observed story about a quartet of young people trying to navigate the perils of finding a permanent place of residence (both literal and figurative) in New York City.

The story concerns Ruth (Keira Naughton who has authentically seemed to internalize Berman's dailogue) who has gone through forty-plus living-spaces in her time in New York. Ruth is still getting over Jesse (Jeremy Shamos channeling Josh Malina) who is in turn romancing one of his (auditing) students, the much younger Bess (Mamie Gummer-hmmm Gummer, Gummer, that's someone famous' real last name, who could it be?). Rounding out the cast is Astor (Michael Chernus), Jesse's brother who remains best friends with Ruth and it would appear is even more transient than Ruth. His great life ambition is to become a "Man with Van." The whole cast is likable and has a good handle on the sitcom-esque brisk dialogue, though the stand-out for me was Chernus who prevents Astor from becoming the Jack Black slacker archetype we've seen a million times before. The set-design (a background composed entirely of taped up moving-boxes) is dynamic and the jokes hit more than they miss (though I can see out-of-towners scratching their heads at some of the material). There is an on-going bit about barroom arcade staple Big Buck Hunter that sticks around for a little too long. The last scene also features characters very directly and explicitly revealing their feelings to each other which is kind of disappointing in light of the shading and dimension on display by the characters prior to this. Still, as a whole, Hunting and Gathering remains a brisk, fun and funny look at the difficulty of finding a proper place in the world.

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