Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Catastrophic Theatre's Hunter Gatherers

Shelley Calene-Black, Troy Schulze, Greg Dean, Amy Bruce

Photo by George Hixson

Dinner parties with old high school friends are rarely a good idea. Add an animal sacrifice into the mix, and well, things get frisky. The Catastrophic Theatre takes its tagline, “We will destroy you,” to epic levels in their sassy new production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers, now playing at DiverseWorks. Why not end the season with some savory meat and a blood bath? Feels right and, dare I say, yummy to me.

Cat-in-heat Wendy, boring doctor Tom, Neanderthal Richard, and demure Pam gather annually for their collective wedding anniversary. Things go downhill the moment Tom finds a parking place. Wendy can’t control the weather in her underpants, Richard can’t control anything, Pam lives for control and Tom invented control. Therein lies the volatile mix of these four characters stuck in a room for two hours. Nachtrieb turns back-to-nature fools on their heads with his riff on primal urges. Think The Flintstones crashing full speed into Housewives of New Jersey.

Nodler directs with a back-away-from-the-mayhem approach, letting the play’s absurd moments have a glory all of their own. Catastrophic’s artistic director knows his way around a riot, yet this is subtler than last year’s production. Leave to Nodler to find tenderness in the most extraordinary ridiculousness.

The superb cast includes Greg Dean, who puts average cave men to shame with his take on the feral Richard. Amy Bruce imbues Wendy with a manic glee, like Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on steroids. Shelley Calene-Black as the polite Pam singlehandedly proves ladylikeness can kill. Troy Schulze gives Tom an absurdest flare, as if he’s escaped from an Ionesco play and is wondering how he ended up with these insane people.

Kevin Holden’s set and lighting design draw the action closer than his previous version at Stages Repertory Theatre. It’s tighter, sleeker, more in your face, lending a more claustrophobic space for these four to mate and merge. Holden gets us way too close this wayward flock, making the antics feel visceral as all get out. At Catastrophic Theatre it takes just a lamp chop to bring down Western Civilization. As it should be. Trust me, this is full-frontal fun.

The Catastrophic Theatre presents Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Hunter Gatherers at DiverseWorks Art Space through July 17. Call 713-522-2723 or visit

Reprinted from Houston ArtsWeek.