And now for something completely different.

Live Arts’ production of “Hunter Gatherers,” by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, which opened Friday night in the  small upstairs Founders’ theater, is a wild ride of a play; a well-done, two-hour trip to the Paleo in all of us. And we’re not just talking about diet, though the play starts that way.

It starts, in fact, with the killing of a lamb, because all the best recipes use really fresh, and definitely local, meat. And this is a special occasion, a yearly gathering of two couples, old high school friends who, though long out of school, still have the angst of it in them, with each yearly celebration aimed at outdoing the previous one. And this one ends up outdoing pretty much everything.

The script took the 2007 American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play/Steinberg award. It’s  a black comedy skillfully directed for Live Arts by Bree Luck, who’s put the emphasis on the comedy, making its core premise more palatable, as long as you don’t mind mildly-graphic sex or non-graphic violence. (But don’t worry—no actual animals are harmed in the making of this production.)

Nachtrieb set out to write a play about primal urges, and in doing so, whether deliberately or not, he was following in the footsteps of famed absurdist Edward Albee, who also included a barnyard animal in his 2002 play “The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?” a show performed in the same space at Live Arts in 2007. In that play, one of the characters is in love, including physical love, with a goat.

Short of the involvement of a barnyard animal, the plays don’t, at first, seem similar. Albee’s play is much darker. But it seems that what Albee was doing with his play is precisely what Nachtrieb is trying to do in his.

Of “The Goat,” Albee wrote “I want everybody to be able to think about what they can’t imagine and what they have buried deep as being intolerable and insufferable.  I want them to just think freshly and newly about it.”

Nachtrieb said it more simply:  “I {decided} I should write a play about primal urges!”

Luck has chosen a superb cast for this production, and directed them well. Jack Walker has impeccable comic timing as Richard, a man’s man with a man-bun, a killer in the kitchen, an artist, a fighter, a lover. Zoe Farmingdale is an interesting foil for his over-the-topness, the mildly meeker wife who literally kills for love, but is no less lost than anyone else, and maybe the one who truly finds herself.

Mendy St. Ours is hilarious as the lustful, child-craving Wendy, married to Chris Patrick’s Tom, the only one of the characters who seems to be even remotely normal, whatever that may mean.


Live Arts Founders Theatre
Through May 7

Friday’s audience loved the show, and for good reason. Luck has directed for the comedy, and has done a fine job of it. What’s left in the background is the uncomfortable stuff, the notion that we are all, in part, still animals. It’s a valid choice, maybe the best one for this strange script.

It might have been interesting to see just a bit more character and a tiny bit less caricature in these three. While the comedy most definitely works, there’s never that feeling that maybe these are real people.

The exception here is Chris Patrick as Tom. Underplaying the absurdity somehow enhances it, while simultaneously making the character more believable.

The show stays pretty much at the same level of frenzy throughout, and, though it works, it would be interesting to see this script as a fast-paced slow build—although a slow build that starts with butchering in the living room seems to be impossible, with this play, it’s possible.

Will Slusher has given us a superb urban loft set that works well in the small space, and Liz Shaprio’s lights complement it nicely. Amalia Oswald’s costumes and Anna Comarovshi’s hair and makeup are perfect, right down to the jungle print on Zoe Farmingdale’s skirt and Jack Walker’s man-bun. John Holdren’s sound helps pull it all together.

There is a lot of physical stuff in this production, and credit needs to be given to fight choreographer Larry Friedland, as well as to all of the actors. Odds are that rehearsals yielded more than one bruise.

This show is not for everyone, but it’s definitely interesting, and Luck has done a fine job of directing this strange little script.


Clare Aukofer holds a BFA in Theatre and Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has worked at professional theaters, including Ford’s Theatre, and served as the theatre critic for the Charlottesville Daily Progress from 1982 to mid-2015. She has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association for her reviews, and has won numerous other awards for writing and editing.