THEATER | “Hunter Gatherers” at Red Eye Theater: All talk, little plot

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When it comes to acting, Twin Cities theater stands second to none. After all, this is where the likes of gifted pros Josh Harnett, Kimberly Elise, Don Cheadle, and more than a few others worked before vaulting into stardom. Every season you can count on a veritable crowd of high-profile, killer talent populating the stage at places that include the Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood Theatre and The Jungle Theater, and area icons like Regina Marie Williams, Stephen Yoakam, T. Mychael Rambo.

So, it should come as no surprise that you’ll find scads of lesser known, but nonetheless just-as-skilled folk slugging away in the proverbial trenches at relatively modest houses like, for instance, Red Eye Theater, where you currently can catch a very strong cast in the regional premiere of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers.

Kevin McLaughlin, Bethany Ford, Jen Scott and Dan Hopman, ably directed by Red Eye artistic director Steven Busa, conduct a virtual clinic on how to thoroughly engage an audience, keeping everyone with you every step of the way. Especially McLaughlin and Ford, who get the meatier parts and just run with it. Nachtrieb calls on character studies to drive his story about two couples, friends who can’t get their own marriages to work and, instead of fixing things at home, wind up cannibalizing each other’s. McLaughlin, occasionally bringing to mind screen ace Paul Giamatti, is the production’s workhorse, running a gamut of angst-riddled moments, showing truly incredible range. He magically captures Tom, a cuckolded, sad sack of a wimp your heart can’t help but go out to. Bethany Ford (who was absolutely fascinating in Walter A. Davis’ An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey at the People’s Center this summer) takes a marvelous turn as Wendy, Tom’s wife who makes no bones about switching her hips under the nose of his life-long buddy Richard—who, by the way, is a dyed-in-the wool, flea-bitten dog married to her best friend, Pam. Ford effortlessly is–there’s no other way to say it–a cold-blooded bitch on wheels. She gives terminally self-absorbed Wendy an icy allure that’d put wood in a dead man’s pants. Dan Hopman energizes obnoxious blowhard, Pam’s randy spouse Richard (he’d have a go at a rattlesnake if you hold the head still for him) with vibrant, detestable life. Jen Scott hilariously fleshes out Pam–you’ve heard of the sex-starved; this poor woman is famished. Scott crafts a desperately warmhearted portrayal you can feel across the room.  

Nachtrieb does a great job of writing life-like characters. Sad to say, however, there’s no story to his script; nothing drives the play. As well drawn as Tom, Wendy, Richard and Pam are, he artificially pushes and shoves them about to vaguely approximate the action of something actually taking place. Nachtrieb’s deft dialogue talks up an agreeable storm that never goes anywhere. We watch what should have been a wonderful erotic farce render itself inert, a cerebral, masturbatory portrait of still life. 

So, you’ve got brilliant actors enlivening what narrowly avoids being an “I could’ve had a V-8 evening.” Thank God for Kevin McLaughlin, Bethany Ford, Jen Scott and Dan Hopman.

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