ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Hunting and Gathering
By Elyse Sommer
As Berman's essay entitled Home that's inserted into the program makes clear, the real estate travails summarized in the hilarious, photo illustrated opening monologue are more than a little autobiographical. It seems that, for a variety of reasons, Berman spent the last fifteen years in over thirty apartments. This absurdly funny and at times sad nomadic existence prompted deeper ruminations on the meaning of home as summed up in her essay's tagline: "it's not a physical place, but also, sometimes, it is."
review continues below
The play built from the author's many moves encompasses both the comedic aspects of dealing with New York's affordable apartment shortage and also the weightier subtext about finding one's place in the sense of surviving without compromising oneself. The slick comedy with its many timely cultural references to Craig's List amd real estate jargon that propels Hunting and Gathering, and the clever way the characters are individualized yet interconnected, outshines the more serious elements. Yet, that interconnectedness, not only gives the play its momentum but allows Berman to give her characters depth without burdening us with more than just enough background information.
The direction by Leigh Silverman, who's become something of a doyenne of touchingly quirky contemporary comedies (Well, Yellow Face), serves the serio-comic script well. She has seen to it that the monologues and scenes work as a tight assemblage. Thuse, the words of one character are often finished by the next one to take center stage. Under Silverman's astute direction, the direct address monologues, which in some plays comes off as facile playwriting, here help to strengthen and add color to the collage effect.
This production is also well served by the four member cast. The two women are played by two increasingly impressive and visible second generation actors: Keira Naughton and Mamie Gummer (both strongly resembling their famous parents, James Naughton and Meryl Streep). Naughton is touching and believable as a woman who has reached her thirties feeling lost and untethered. Mamie Gummer is terrific as the younger but more self-assured Bess.
Michael Chernus and Jeremy Shamos who have been cast and praised in enough shows to probably afford over-priced rents are well paired as Jesse and Astor. Shamos, last seen as a trouble priest in 100 Saints You Should Know, brings the understated sublety of that role to Hunting and Gathering's most substantial character, who's smart enough to be a Columbia College literature professor but clueless about what it takes to be a good husband, lover or brother.
Without giving away all the ins and outs of the plot, here's how Ruth, Bess, Astor and Jesse all are caught up in apartment problems and with each other. . .
Thirty-ish Ruth has the opening monologue with the accompanying slide show of all her apartments (shares, sublets, housesits). She's also been in and out of lots of relationships, most recently with a married man who is, of course, none other than Jesse. Jesse's affair with Ruth ended but so did his marriage so that we find him moving into an apartment and for the first time having to deal with household necessities previously handled by his ex-wife.
Younger brother Astor is on hand to help Jesse get settled. He wouldn't mind moving into the spare room Jesse plans to uses as an office to end having to "couch surf " or getting free sleeping privileges on other people's couches. While Jesse and Ruth no longer see each other, Astor and Ruth remain good friends and have more sibling intimacy than the men.
To round out the quartet, there's Bess, the aggressive 20-year-old who's in a multiple share in Park Slope. The four-way connection between all the characters is completed when Bess decides that auditing Jesse's class makes it okay for them to date.
There are a lot of knots to unravel here. For Ruth finding out who she wants to be starts with a chance meeting with Bess playing a video game called "Buck Hunter." You'll have to see the play fo find out if l she becomes a know-what-you-want and go-for-it "hunter" like Bess, or opts for being a "gatherer" who allows herself to emerge into a new form from what's already there, like a butterfly from a cocoon.
The video game is a novel and nicely staged if somewhat overcooked metaphor. But Gummer makes it such fun that it seems curmudgeonly not to love it. My one quibble is the outer borough bashing which has become a cliche in any play with references to the bridges and tunnel locations near Manhattan. Such over-used verbal shtik is beneath someone gifted enough to write dialogue like this exchange between the two brothers: When Jesse suggests that "a real job" might help Astor to have a place of his own, Astor tells him "I have, like ten 'real jobs'" but adds that he's looking for something more, " Like Henry David Thoreau." Jesse priceless response to this is "Henry David Thoreau brought his laundry home to his mother the entire time he lived in Walden Pond."
As praiseworthy as the snappy dialogue and solid direction and acting is David Korin's deceptively simple set and the way it realizes the playwright and director's vision of a collage. When you first take your seat, all you see is a New York skycape constructed from brown cartons. But as in H.M.S. Pinafore skim milk masquerades as cream, so Korin's cardboard collage reveals doors that swing open to roll out props and such necessities as a refrigerator. Miranda Hoffman's costumes, Ben Stanton's lighting and Robert Kaplowitz's original music and sound design further add to the visual pleasure of this play which extends the impressive credits Ms. Berman has managed to chalk up despite her extended "homelessness."
Links to Other Reviews of Plays by Brooke Berman
The Triple Happiness (2004)
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide