Have yourself a merry little Walpurgisnacht. Just in time for those dreaded annual holiday gatherings, the Las Vegas Little Theatre’s production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “Hunter Gatherers” in the Fischer Black Box ruthlessly explores the primordial meanings behind human social conventions.
“Hunter Gatherers” resembles Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” But while Albee explores the more cerebral Freudian dimensions of human relationships, Nachtrieb, who has dual degrees in biology and theater, has taken things down to a cruder level — pheromones and biological instincts. Am I in love or is it just my selfish genes talking?
Shane Cullum, in his sophomore turn as a director at LVLT, walks a fine line between dark satire and sophomoric sex comedy when he has his talented actors practically drooling the script’s many double entendres. Slavering over a cut of meat while describing their orgasmic cravings is funny like a “Saturday Night Live” skit, but more restraint might sharpen the point of the wit.
Though in a play that opens with the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb onstage (no real animals are harmed in the production) perhaps restraint is not Nachtrieb’s intention.
Two couples are getting together for their annual dinner celebrating their joint wedding anniversaries. Richard (the Dick is understood) is the Alpha male married to Pam, a simple home gatherer. Like an expert griller, Richard goes all out to prepare the perfect piece of meat by slaughtering his own at home while reading instructions from a how-to-book (Martha Stewart?), as Pam cheerfully chirps, “I’m going to get started on the brownies.”
Richard explains the sacrifice to his wife, “Things must be done to keep love and good fortune shining upon us.” But Pam — crying “Out! Out!” — cannot clean the spot from the hardwood floor of their condo.
Enter Wendy and husband Tom, whose parking skills she witheringly castigates, “Some tigers like to live in the woods and others prefer cages.”
It is clear which tiger this huntress wants to capture when Richard enters in a blood-soaked apron and she coos, “I’ve been craving flesh all day.” For a drink she wants “something bloody.”
Richard challenges Tom to a wrestling match, a humiliating annual ritual male rape, in which the emasculated Tom is effortlessly pinned and forced to acknowledge that Richard is “the man.”
Richard pours a glass of wine “for my best b----.”
While Wendy assists Richard in the kitchen with dinner, Tom worries to Pam that their spouses are actually having sex, “How long does it take to stuff a mushroom?”
Later, Wendy confesses to Pam that Tom can’t perform sexually, “The closest thing Tom has to an orgasm is an apology,” and suggests to Pam that she borrow Richard to get pregnant.
The doggy dominance game between the two men gives way to a more primeval struggle between the two women harkening all the way back to Sarah and Hagar in Genesis.
Kihapi’ilani Akui is suitably virile as Richard, though his characterization could profit by a more nuanced masculinity. Similarly, Madeline Angulo’s Wendy is so overtly in heat that her character is practically humping the set.
Less might do more to display the aggressive sexuality of both characters, although Nachtrieb’s script hardly allows for subtleties. Nonetheless, Akui and Angulo are compelling as hunter and huntress.
April Needham as Pam is sweetly ditzy, and that makes the turn of events all the more surprising. Her final epiphany brings an unexpected transcendence.
Director Shane Cullum plays the part of Tom as a neurotic pantywaist, yet he finds within his character a pathos that lifts the entire play to a more sober level.
If you are offended by violence, crude sexual expressions, partial nudity and simulated sex, this play is not for you. Blood is not the only stain on this condo’s floors. Still, this is one holiday gathering that you won’t want to skip.