Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hunter Gatherers anatomizes human predators

Richard wrestles Tom
courtesy photo

Mary may have had a little lamb–and may have seen it sacrificed at Capital Stage on Sacramento’s Delta King. The brain child of prolific playwright Sinn Nachtrieb, a San Francisco native, the play begins with a stomach-churning scene. A lamb, invisible in a cardboard box, is about to be slaughtered in front of our eyes. Instinctively we tense, though we know that real consumers don’t buy live lambs and slay them at home.

The action takes place on a May evening in 2005, in “an urban apartment in a city much like San Francisco.” Its cast consists of two married couples, all age 35. Occupants of the apartment are “our hero” Pam (Kelley Ogden) and Richard (Cassidy Brown). They receive a visit from a pair of old friends from high school, also married: Wendy (Katie Rubin) and Tom (Jonathan Rhys Williams). Williams, an artistic associate with the company, also directs.

As Pam looks on, Richard finally summons the strength to overcome his compassion and slay the lamb (something we never really see). His mood swings to triumph and an appetite for the corpse, his favorite dish, which he delivers to an offstage oven. Shortly afterward the couple’s guests arrive, bearing wine. Richard and Wendy chew the lamb carcass, and Pam feeds Tom carrots because he recoiled from the spectacle.

Richard fancies himself an artist, and Tom is a physician. Immediately they relate to each other like a pair of teen-age toughs, savagely wrestling—but all in fun. The horseplay, almost on cue, leads to a cut on Richard’s head, transforming Tom back into his social role as physician. Suddenly all professional, Tom neatly sews up the cut.

The women are also a pair of contrasts: a sedate Pam and a blowsy Wendy. We quickly discover that Richard and Wendy secretly (or not-so-secretly) are carrying on an affair. There’s much talk about how Wendy yearns for a baby and who she might want to be its father. There are also hints of a homosexual attraction between the two men. The play builds to a conclusion where Pam finally discovers—and embraces—her own raw sexuality.

Following the script, Steve Decker, set and lighting designer, decorates the apartment with African masks, spears and skulls on a string, echoing the play’s contrast between civilization and savagery, between the hunters and the gatherers.

The play, like most offerings by Capital Stage, stimulates insight while providing entertainment. Though much of the dialogue brings on laughter, Nachtrieb’s characters seem a little too contrived, designed to fit the human contrasts captured in the title. The acting and directing, though, carry out the play’s mission with suitable élan and comic timing.

The show is aimed at adults and may not be suitable for anyone under 17.

Performances continue through June 27. (There will be no performances Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30.) Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-$32. Discount tickets are also available at the Capital Stage Box Office, by phone at 916-995-5464, or online at www.capstage.org. The Pilothouse Restaurant offers a specially priced $29 three-course dinner for theatre patrons; Pilothouse reservations can be made through the box office.

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