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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters

By Bill Stevenson

  Mamie Gummer and Keira Naughton/PH:James Leynse

Primary Stages' subscribers-affluent, older, and probably owners of at least one home-aren't the ideal audience for Brooke Berman's comedy about young, apartment-hopping New Yorkers. Luckily, Berman's characters are so likable that it's easy to get caught up in their romantic and real-estate travails.

The rather slight 90-minute play opens with Ruth (Keira Naughton) presenting a rapid-fire slide show of the numerous apartments and houses she's called home. Most have been sublets, and she is currently housesitting in Queens for an actor. Her best friend, Astor (Michael Chernus ), is equally peripatetic. He moves from place to place couch surfing. His half brother, Jesse (Jeremy Shamos ), is a lit professor at Columbia and has his own apartment. He had a brief but passionate affair with Ruth, which helped end his marriage. Finally, Bess (Mamie Gummer ) is a student who lives with roommates in Park Slope (which she calls a really weird part of Brooklyn where people pretend they live in Woodstock.")

Berman gives her characters a number of funny lines that will ring true for anyone who has shuttled from one unsatisfactory living situation to another. Of her storage unit, Ruth says, I visit sometimes, just to say hi. Hi, stuff. Astor admits that he lacks corporate sponsorship in the form of salary. He does, however, buy a vehicle that makes him a man with van.

Occasionally, the dialogue sounds forced, as when the supremely confident Bess comes on to Jesse, who happens to be her teacher. Your class is slow, but you turn me on," she says. But most of the dialogue is believable, and Berman links the characters in entertaining fashion. Ruth and Bess meet by chance at a dive bar, where Bess shares her love of a hunting video game. She advises Ruth to be a predator, not a bunny rabbit.

Endearingly vulnerable, Ruth can't help being more of a bunny rabbit than a predator. It's impossible not to sympathize with her as she searches for a decent apartment and a decent (unmarried) man. Naughton is quite winning in the role. Chernus gets many of the funniest lines as Astor, and the actor's delivery is somewhat reminiscent of Jack Black-which is meant as a compliment. By comparison, Jesse is more of a straight man, and Shamos gives him a down-to-earth charm. Bess is so self-assured that she isn't as naturally likable as the other three, but Gummer keeps her from being obnoxious or abrasive.

Directed by Leigh Silverman, Hunting and Gathering has a few slow spots and doesn't have the most compelling plot. It does boast engaging characters, however, and they largely make up for the lack of dramatic action. The appealing foursome may well remind Primary Stages subscribers of their younger selves, when they too were young, single, struggling New Yorkers.


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