It's an urban apartment you've seen before, if not in person then in a West Elm catalog. Clean, modern, spacious—the home of thirtysomething, educated, civilized people. Then you notice the tribal art, the blood-red door, a cookbook titled How to Cook Everything, and something starts to feel a little ominous. That feeling gets validated 10 minutes later with an animal sacrifice on the living room floor.
So begins the newest production from Theatre Vertigo: Hunter Gatherers by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Nachtrieb hails from San Francisco, and like the city, his work is both profane and playful, gritty and gorgeous.
The animal, a little lamb named Carl, is sacrificed for nothing less than a dinner party. It is the yearly reunion of the "Fab Four"—Pam, Richard, Wendy, and Tom—best friends through prom, college, a tandem wedding, and all that follows. It is their most special night of the year, so something special must be created. Blood must be spilled as an act of love. An innocent throat is cut with an Ikea knife.
If you feel bad for the lamb, you should see what the people do to people. Richard (Mario Calcagno) is the hyper-sexed alpha male who often refers to himself in the third person, like an egotistical caveman: "Richard is angry." His wife, Pam (Kerry Ryan), still clings to her high-school valedictorian speech as a mantra, and tries her best to keep the dinner party pleasant despite the blood stains and the thick lust pulsating between her husband and their guests. Wendy (Brooke Fletcher) and Tom (Joel Harmon) are on the brink of a divorce because of problems with procreation and car parking. All of the actors give charged performances: The pace is relentless, the sexual tension (and release) boundless.
In the words of director Tom Moorman, this play asks, "How far removed are we from being truly savage to each other?" It doesn't take much until the appetite for sex, dominance, freedom, and fresh meat turns buttoned-up friends into bloodstained animals.
Hunter Gatherers has been called a farce, but my sense is that the conflicts in the play, though extreme, are not so extraordinary. Humans will break the bonds of relationship to satisfy base needs. Whether we live in a cave or a condo, we are never tamed.