Hunting and Gathering: Rootless and Roofless
“How come all the jobs I can do are not the jobs that will pay me to live like an adult?!” angrily declares Ruth (Lydia Mackay), a New Yorker in her late 30s without a regular home or stable employment. Ruth is the oldest of a quartet of terminally indecisive young adults in playwright Brooke Berman’s melancholy comedy Hunting and Gathering. Berman’s six-year-old script accurately depicts the current plight of urban millennials in an economy that’s hostile to their non-STEM college degrees. In some ways the play is very New York-centric, with its constant references to the city’s neighborhoods, amenities, and perpetually fraught rental property market. But because the script addresses the rootlessness of young would-be professionals who’ve chosen careers in the arts or media, the show has a strikingly universal feel for anyone who’s found herself underpaid, overeducated, and single in a big cruel city. Director Harry Parker, the chair of Texas Christian University’s theater department, helms Hunting and Gathering as a co-production between the school and Amphibian Stage Productions. It’s an absorbing, well-observed play that, with its cannily detailed performances, packs a surprisingly sad punch.
With 40 approaching fast, Ruth is reeling from a painful affair with married Jesse (Sam Swanson), a young professor of world literature at Columbia University whose own existential crisis is romantic: His intense dalliance with Ruth not only blew up in his face but also busted up his marriage. That’s why he offers to share his suddenly lonely living space with his younger half-brother Astor (Garret Storms), a bearded, long-haired acolyte of Eastern religions who, like Ruth, has spent most of his (brief) adult years in New York house-sitting and couch-surfing. Astor, at least, has rationalized his transient existence as a form of Buddhist observance. Jesse is in an anguished tailspin he can’t seem to emerge from, which explains his impulsive decision to start dating a young female college student named Bess (Kelsey Summers) who’s auditing his class. The 20-year-old Bess is either a blunt pragmatist or a sociopath, depending on the viewer’s perspective –– she divides the dating world into two classes, predator and prey, and leaps on the vulnerable Jesse like a lion bagging a gazelle. These four characters move aimlessly in and out of one another’s lives in short, punchy vignettes that keep the show moving at an urgent clip.
As Amphibian interprets it, Hunting and Gathering is a bit of an oddity –– a quietly despairing study of youthfulness and the way its seemingly infinite possibilities and opportunities can paralyze rather than inspire. Director Parker was wise to tilt the script and his actors in this somewhat graver direction, because too much zany hipster energy would’ve rendered this play as stale as a late-night Friends re-run. The director’s sober take, in turn, suggests the delusional position of anyone who thinks marital commitment and domesticity inevitably equal life-long security. All the characters are searching for “home,” but it keeps slipping through their fingers thanks to the mundane tragedies of breakups, job losses, career disappointments –– and the deaths of friendships.
The cast proves very adept at playing to this more somber comic key: Mackay, Storms, and Swanson inhabit their characters’ ambivalence with finely honed, naturalistic performances. Summers tends to steal most of the scenes she’s in, but that’s because, as written, Bess has a ruthless streak that occasionally borders on the monstrous. Summers turns this petite, pretty Columbia undergrad into the scary epitome of millennial entitlement. She helps elevate Hunting and Gathering into something more than another comic romp about the largely self-created dramas of young adulthood.
Hunting and Gathering
Thru May 4 at Amphibian Stage Productions, 120 S Main St, FW. $28-33. 817-923-3012.