Searching for home (and a narrative focus) in Theatre Seven’s ‘Hunting and Gathering’

Michael Salinas and Tracey Kaplan attempt to find a connection, while redundant projections hang around nearby.

Home is where the heart is. We’ve all made that bumpy transition into adulthood where the quest for career, love and a place to call home — the holy trinity — are blurry goals that we fumble our way through. Luckily, I’m now a proud homeowner (and have a career and am in a relationship), but I certainly remember that painful, yet exciting, shift when moving to Chicago eight years ago, wondering where my new home would be, and what it would look and feel like when I got there.

The three main characters in Brooke Berman’s sweet but slight play, Hunting and Gathering, are all well into adulthood, but are still apartment surfing. They are in a perpetual state of transition, looking for something undefined and uncertain. Middle-class transients, as it were. Ruth (a high-strung, yet endearing Tracey Kaplan) has lived in 30-plus places, and falls in love too easily with the wrong men. College professor and recent divorcee Jesse (Michael Salinas) is one of those men Ruth’s fallen in love with, and he’s been kicked out of the house by his ex wife. His half-brother Astor (Todd Garcia) is another drifter who has feelings for Ruth and helps Jesse find a small flat. And then there’s Bess (Paige Collins), who, while still a college student, is the only character who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. And what she wants is Jesse — her professor.

There are a lot of ideas this play attempts to explore: finding “home” in an urban setting, coping with 30-something life transitions, modern relationships, how an “on-demand” age has impacted the courting process, empowerment. However, the play takes such a cursory glance at each of these topics, we’re not really sure what these highly-neurotic characters have discovered about any of it — or, at the very least, what’s motivated them to stop aimlessly searching and start settling down. They just do.

For example: Jesse drives up to Canada to free his mind and comes back a new man. What happened in Canada, Jesse? Ruth suddenly stops talking a million miles an hour and has finally located her zen mode. Did you start dating a pharmacist who hooked you up with some Xanax? Seems the only logical explanation for your drastic and rapid turnaround.

The cast gives appealing performances. I will say Collins fares better in a series of snarky video emails (Skypes?) to her mother, which are projected on a screen, then she does actually onstage suffering through a vapid, underdeveloped role. Unfortunately there were some distracting lighting snafus on opening night — but I’m sure those will be ironed out. The staging by director Brian Golden is decent, but I found the projected stage directions that frame the action distracting and irritatingly redundant (“Ruth picks up the phone” it says as the actress playing Ruth…picks up the phone. Really?).

I think Berman needs to find out what story she wants to tell and simply tell it. Her writing is smart, playful and contemporary — but unfocused. In other words: it’s a play that’s still searching. Fitting, I guess — but not in a way that makes for compelling theatre.

“Hunting and Gathering” plays through June 27 at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. More information here >

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