Hunter Gatherers at Actors Theatre: The Consequences of Extremes

Hearing Actors Theatre managing director Erica McKibben Black tell Sunday's matinee audience that the rest of this season is on was a lovely way to greet the new year. Though they fell just a smidge short of what they needed to raise by December 31, the company's planning and restructuring are going well, and the community's support continues to strengthen, as well.

Confidence runs both ways, and confidence is one of the big themes of AT's current show, Hunter Gatherers, directed by Ron May. Is it better to actually need your loved ones or to operate independently of them? Can you ride the pendulum all the way to both peaks within 24 hours? And is reproduction really the only purpose that ultimately matters to the universe? (Because that could be true -- like the existence of intelligent life on other planets -- and yet not really affect how you get through the day.)

The play raises a bunch of other interesting questions, but more than that, it takes us on a crazy but strangely believable ride. Somehow, though the events of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's script sound over-the-top in the abstract, the author's grasp of cause and effect in human behavior is astute, making absurdity feel inevitable and even appropriate.

Wonderful performances and direction are also part of what makes it work. An evening of old friends getting together that begins with a lamb being slaughtered in an urban loft in 2005, then unspools to include what appear to be both the best and worst moments of all four characters' lives, is drawn in blood, wine, and other juicy substances by a cast headed up by Cale Epps. (Everybody's great, but Epps' character, Richard, is made to dominate, and from the moment he dons his black latex chef's apron, Epps grabs the show by the throat and never lets go.)

A lot of people have noticed that Hunter Gatherers echoes God of Carnage in many ways. They're both very funny and at least a little disturbing, they're both about a few purportedly social hours with two couples on the cusp of middle age, and they both highlight humanity's inner caveman.

The biggest obvious difference is that the characters in God of Carnage meet for the first time at the beginning of the play and they're kind of okay at the end, after everything they've been through. You can imagine everyone getting up the next morning and putting it behind them. (Though they might not.) In Hunter Gatherers, though, everybody's been acquainted since high school -- they even shared a wedding reception -- and by the final curtain, nothing is the same. 'Nuff said on that.

If you haven't been to see this show yet, don't let your eyes leave Angelica Howland for a moment. Her face and body impart a lot that you will miss if you aren't paying attention -- and some of it is simply priceless.

Hunter Gatherers continues through Sunday, January 15, at Herberger Theater, 222 East Monroe Street. Tickets range from $13.50 (student rush) to $37. To order, or for more info, click here or call 602-252-8497.

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