Hunting and Gathering
Someone once said that in New York, people are always looking for a job, a significant other, or an apartment. The majority of the characters in Hunting and Gathering, a new production by Brooke Berman, are looking for all three. The play, a lightly humorous blending of stories about four people living in New York, is almost like a Craigslist ad itself – it tells the viewers a little about the good, a little about the bad, and it hints at what could be if the text were taken to a deeper level. It leaves you intrigued and wanting more, but it does not deliver.
The main character of the show is Ruth, a thirty year old woman who is a chronic mover. She opens the play by giving a slideshow presentation of all of the apartments she has lived in over the years. Performed by Keira Nauhton, she possesses a sarcastic, bitter edge, acquired by her years of moving and dating. She is reeling from ending a relationship with a married professor who is now divorced (a mild, almost lethargic Jeremy Shamos) and spends much of her time discussing real estate with his couch-hopping Buddhist brother (an excellent Michael Chernus). The fourth character is Bess, a 20 year old Columbia student who lives in Brooklyn with six other girls and is played by Mamie Gummer. Attracted to Jesse, she approaches him after class and they quickly begin a relationship…or something.
The script is peppered with nudges and winks about New York real estate and sly barbs and digs towards Queens and Brooklyn as well as clinical definitions of “house sit,” couch-surf, and, my personal favorite and the one I am the most familiar with, “Craigslist.”
All of the characters are drifting in one way or another, searching for some form of centering in their lives. Ruth is the most floundering, finding temporary places to stay from random people she meets in random encounters. Astor obviously longs to be more than friends with her, and Jesse, while informing Bess that their relationship is a rebound one, does nothing to deter her affections. Bess seems to be the only one of the quartet who knows what she wants and goes after it, with no inhibitions or doubts stopping or even slowing her. Played with disarming clarity and audacity by Gummer, she possesses a matter-of-fact, straightforward view of life which she describes while teaching Ruth how to shoot a toy gun in a bar arcade one night.
Her view of life, simply put, is that you can be a predator, or you can be preyed on. However, with Gummer delivering the lines, they are not easily dismissed as empty words by an underage collegiate. Her delivery has an edge to it, a slight tightness to her lines that causes the audience to wonder how she came to that point of view and what experiences led her there. She mentions her therapist repeatedly in conversation, but she mentions it matter-of-factly and without hesitation. Exactly why she is in therapy is another story which is not told in this show.
For the majority of the show, the script manages to remain authentic yet sarcastic, but at times it falters and resorts to clichés used an eternal number of times before, such as when Ruth, lonely and confused, checks herself into a Howard Johnson hotel and babbles uncontrollably about her problems to room service. However, the stories of these characters are interesting, if not compelling, and make for an enjoyable, briskly directed, 90 minute show with a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Real estate will always be a topic of conversation in New York, so why not discuss it with total strangers?