Have you ever mocked how TV characters of modest means live in apartments way beyond their means (e.g., NBC’s Friends)? Rep Stage has a play for you. The regional premiere of Brooke Berman’s clever Hunting and Gathering features young New Yorkers facing the challenges of transience in a difficult real estate market and an equally difficult emotional environment.
Ruth (Kathryn Tkel) opens the play listing over two dozen living situations in her last fifteen years. Ruth is a plucky romantic comedy heroine, an open-hearted woman who is starting to be concerned about reaching her early thirties without achieving a real home or a lasting relationship.
Ruth is currently house-sitting in Queens in the home of an actor she kissed before he departed for a gig in Canada. While Ruth’s life seems nomadic, she has far more stability than friend Astor. Astor (Daniel Corey) has spent the last year engaged in “couch surfing” as he rotates between friends’ homes while surviving on multiple low-paying jobs and pursuing a Henry David Thoreau-like existential quest.
Astor is the brother of Jesse (Rex Daugherty), a professor who had an affair with Ruth a year earlier. His wife having divorced him after discovering the affair, Jesse is forced to find his first solo apartment. Unlike Ruth and Astor, Jesse can afford a two bedroom apartment and has converted one of those bedrooms into an office (despite his brother’s almost drooling over the dream of living somewhere with his own bedroom).
Indeed, Jesse’s apartment seems to be the primary attraction for Bess. Bess (Alina Collins Maldonado) is a strong-willed student auditing one of Jesse’s classes who takes the lead in initiating a sexual relationship with the more pliable Jesse. Bess is also prone to ranting about how difficult it is to share a Brooklyn residence with six other young women.
Bess and Ruth bond over a bar’s arcade game “Big Buck Hunter.” It’s a clever plot device that produces an unlikely friendship and underscores the issue of whether Ruth will remain a roaming gatherer or will start developing a harder predator’s heart like Bess.
Brooke Berman’s script is endlessly entertaining, full of modern references (Craig’s List and IKEA) and incisive observations (“After 30, air mattresses are not charming”). Berman first began her career as a solo monologist, and many of the play’s finest moments come when characters address the audience directly.
The production is well-served by its fine cast. Kathryn Tkel skillfully makes Ruth a sympathetic protagonist with just the right amount of gentle optimism and vulnerability. Daniel Corey’s Astor is an amusing slacker and Rex Daugherty makes his thirtysomething Jesse convincingly uncertain. Finally, Alina Collins Maldonado’s hilarious Bess demonstrates she has acute comedic skills.
HUNTING AND GATHERING
April 6 – 24, 2016
at Horowitz Center, Smith Studio
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044
Tickets: $15 – $40
Kasi Campbell’s sure-footed direction helps keep the fast-moving action light yet capable of hitting poignant notes. Mollie Singer set design is composed mostly of effectively utilized cardboard boxes, underscoring the ephemeral lifestyles of the play’s characters.
At times Hunting and Gathering can veer towards the superficial, and the characters aren’t deeply drawn enough to fully engage the audience into caring about the quintessential romcom issue of who will wind up with whom. Yet the play is funny and fresh, even if much of the humor is more reminiscent of a sitcom. Rep Stage’s production of Hunting and Gathering is a pleasant diversion with an infrequently dramatized perspective on the travails of modern urban bohemians who are slowly maturing.
Note: Playwright (as well as screenwriter, director, memoirist, and teacher) Brooke Berman will be Rep Stage’s special guest for a post-show discussion on Friday, April 22 and a pre-show lecture on Saturday, April 23, which starts at 12:30 p.m. Both events are free of charge and open to the public, even if you are attending the production on a different date. If Hunting and Gathering is any indication, she will be a very engaging and enjoyable speaker.
Hunting and Gathering by Brooke Berman . Director: Kasi Campbell . Featuring Kathryn Tkel, Rex Daugherty, Daniel Corey, and Alina Collins Maldonado . Set Design: Mollie Singer . Lighting Design: Jay Herzog . Sound Design: Neil McFadden . Costume Design: Eric Abele . Props Design: Dre Moore . Stage Manager: Keri Schultz . Assistant Stage Manager: Niew Bharyaguntra. Produced by Rep Stage . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.