On the surface, the title of Brooke Berman’s comedy, “Hunting and Gathering,” refers to finding a place to live in New York – no easy task. The characters on stage share apartments with roommates, sleep on friends’ couches, house sit and occasionally – rarely – rent apartments of their own.
But the title also refers to personal relationships – friendships, romances, affairs. Hunting for them, gathering them up, trying to hold onto them.
The clever set at Rep Stage’s area premiere of “Hunting and Gathering” consists of walls of corrugated packing boxes. Even the stairs in designer Mollie Singer’s set are made of boxes. Some of these boxes hold surprises, which I’m not going to spoil.
As the moving boxes suggest, “Everything’s temporary.” That’s how one of the play’s four characters puts it. The point is also made in the opening monologue, spoken by the peripatetic protagonist, Ruth.
Ruth lists more than two dozen past domiciles – all the way up to her current housesitting gig in Queens. Kathryn Tkel gives such an endearing portrayal of Ruth, you root for her. You want her to find some stability, to stop moving.
But transience has become a way of life for these young New Yorkers. Ruth’s friend, Astor, leads an even more migratory lifestyle, moving from couch to couch, futon to air mattress.
Played by Daniel Corey as an easy-going, nice guy, Astor gladly helps his recently divorced brother, Jesse – a more fretful Rex Daugherty -- move into his new place.
The next time we see Astor, he’s helping Ruth move into her latest place. Daniel Corey makes it evident – to us, if not to her – that Astor’s affection for Ruth is greater than just friendship. But matters are complicated by the fact that Ruth had an affair with Astor’s brother Jesse – while Jesse, a college professor, was still married.
The fourth character in “Hunting and Gathering” is a student of Jesse’s named Bess who brazenly comes on to him and tries to take over his life, beginning with furnishing his apartment. Alina Collins Maldonado’s spoiled, entitled Bess is so strident and angry from the start, there’s almost nowhere to go.
Perhaps director Kasi Campbell is trying to show how much Bess doesn’t fit in with the other, more tractable, characters – particularly with Jesse. Although Bess and Ruth share the production’s liveliest scene -- playing an arcade game called Big Buck Hunter – Bess’ character feels under-developed. The problem may lie, in part, with playwright Brooke Berman’s script.
That’s not the script’s only shortcoming. The playwright relies heavily on devices including phone calls and, in Bess’ case, letters, for exposition.
Near the end of “Hunting and Gathering,” Ruth chastises herself for making “random choices.” She says she “needs to get real.” But, in some ways, the choice she eventually makes also seems random – unsatisfying and temporary. It shouldn’t. The play has – sort of -- been leading up to it. But at Rep Stage, I couldn’t help thinking that for all four of these characters, the hunting and gathering will continue for a long time to come.