‘The Hunger’ will leave you wanting more

Familial ties can be daunting. What family doesn’t have that batty aunt or cuckoo grandma who, through negative attention-seeking, rains on the parade of every family gathering? Taken to the extreme, that idea is at the center of local playwright and director Edward D. Padilla’s own black comedy, “The Hunger,” currently running at Las Vegas Little Theatre.

Presenting the show in the dark, cavernous Fischer Black Box enhances the low-budget, underground feel of the story about a motley family struggling to survive and thrive while their centenarian matriarch ferociously gobbles up everything seen and unseen, breaking their pocketbooks and spirits.

Before the show begins, we hear the din of constant cars rushing by and look upon a grungy set, and get the idea that the setting is a dilapidated home, located under the bridge of a freeway in a bad part of town. The music box of a creepy ice cream truck also intermittently chimes, setting the stage for what potentially could be a surreal examination of a few joyless lives.

And while Padilla’s script contains absurdist undertones through the gluttonous lump of a grandma to whom everyone else is a slave, in execution it doesn’t come off with existential depth. It has moments of physical comedy mixed with neurotic, angst-filled meltdowns; but it is sometimes contrived and neither themes nor characters are fully developed.

The family is described as LGBT, and the story features a few same-sex couples and sexual situations, but the story doesn’t necessarily speak to gay issues at all. The narrative is concerned with money and the importance of hard work, topical subjects considering the sad state of the job market today; a deeper exploration of that could widen the meaning of the play.

It’s simply about a dysfunctional group worn out by the awful grandma Poppy (a rather comical Kate Labahn). She is the surreal one of the lot; moving in and out on her wheelchair, wearing a pink robe and sporting wild white hair, she resembles a demented former birthday clown. She shouts out one-word sentences to express her needs, such as “Popcorn!” “Relish!” “Cheese!” and is a consummate eating machine.

It’s no wonder poor household leader Stone (played with heartfelt conviction by Kyle Jones), teeters on the verge of sanity. He tries in vain to support everyone and keep Poppy fed, but being almost the sole source of income is tattering his nerves. He unfortunately gets no help from slacker sister Trip (a poised, confident Abby Dandy), who schemes up sinister plans to get rid of Poppy so she doesn’t have to work.

Among Trip’s crazy plans is to marry off Poppy to candy-store lesbian Sappo (a funnily effective Lee Ludwig Meyers) in order to transfer responsibility. This, of course, backfires, and even more shenanigans ensue. Rounding out the family are the soulful, humble Fin (Monica Lorin), hard-working hairdresser/massage therapist Gonzo (Jesselyn De Luna), and the stoic, rational Wall (Kurtis Lawrence).

Under the direction of Padilla, opening night was unevenly paced and lacked focus in places, perhaps because of some jitters. The cast members mostly are fresh-faced and young, with some inexperienced; that unfortunately has the effect of hindering a needed grittiness.

Everyone seems to give their all, though, particularly actors Jones and Dandy, who keep the plot moving.

Las Vegas Little Theatre’s presentation of “The Hunger” might not be for everyone. The subject matter, though sometimes funny, might be disturbing for some. But for those interested in seeing an experimental type of production by a local playwright, it could prove to be worthwhile.