An interview with Pippa Mackie and Maryanne Renzetti
The women of Staircase Theatre's Hunter Gatherers

Dates and Venue
30 October – 15 November 2014, 8pm (2pm matinees Nov 8 & 15) | Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive

Tickets for the show are priced at $25 & $20 at the Box Office:

Interviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

The buzz around the city is that the upcoming Staircase Theatre Canadian premiere of Hunter Gatherers—Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dark comedy—will treat theatre-goers to some of the most intense scenes ever seen on a Vancouver stage. Pippa Mackie plays Pam and Maryanne Renzetti plays Wendy—two of the four characters involved in what is perhaps the most compelling and macabre four-person dinner party evening since Edward Albee gave us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Maryanne Renzetti in Evelyn Strange
Photo: Becky Shrimpton

While talking of how her character discards her civilized veneer to ultimately embrace her raw savage side, Ms. Renzetti emphasizes that Wendy has a strong “desire to be a mother, which is a very primal thing.” She goes on to point out that “it’s this drive that ultimately takes her into the ‘savage’ side of her being and brings her to a place that someone in our ‘modern’ world and society wouldn’t dream of being.” As a woman over thirty, Ms. Renzetti says she can “identify with the desire to be a mother” and she stresses that she has had to tap into her primal side as much as possible for this role.

Ms. Mackie was asked about what some of the most challenging aspects she faced when preparing for the role of Pam. She spoke about how her gut reaction after having first read the script was having been “blown away by its daring brashness and honest subtleties. The comedy is huge at some points, and subtle at others. The situations Pam encounters in this play are extreme. It’s the subtleties that make a character whole, and it’s a challenge to find out what she is going through from one moment to the other.” After having read the play a couple of times, I can affirm that the character of Pam is not only fully nuanced, but she also undergoes one of the most striking transformations in modern theatre.

The character of Wendy may be slightly more static than Pam, but she is certainly as fully developed and perhaps in some ways more intriguing. As such she represents a challenge for an actor. When asked what she found to be the most difficult aspect of this role, Ms. Renzetti replied that “the downward spiral that Wendy goes on” may be the most difficult aspect. “Wendy’s libido drives her into a more primal place. Tracking that descent and understanding it will be a challenge.” But she is quick to add that she is “up for it!”

Speaking of some of the shifts Pam undergoes away from wide-eyed innocence to an awakening awareness of some of the grimmer realities of the play, Ms. Mackie suggests that “Pam is finding out who she really is throughout this show. Her awareness of what happens between the other characters reveals itself throughout the script. I trust director Ryan Gladstone to help find the moments when Pam realizes she is not at the ‘perfect’ dinner party after all.” Such surmise will work optimally if the audience realizes it at the same time as Pam does, I am sure.

After reading this stunning script, I couldn’t help but wonder about what type of a long-term relationship exists between these characters so I asked which of the other three characters Maryanne Renzetti most enjoyed interacting with in her role as Wendy. While it is early on in the rehearsals, she said that “so far I’m enjoying the interactions with Pam the most. The relationship between them is the most interesting to me. They’ve been friends for 17 years and their feelings towards each other are very complicated. Wendy’s relationship with the guys (Tom and Richard) is a bit more straightforward.”

As the title suggests, Hunter Gatherers is a very physical play. I wondered whether or not Wendy might be one of the most physical roles Maryanne Renzetti has ever played; and when asked about this, she says “Well, we have only just started rehearsals at this point and we haven’t had the fight rehearsal yet, so none of the physical has been blocked. But we have two really great Fight Directors, Mike Kovac and Ryan Bolton, who are going to work with us to create a really great fight scene—but still be safe. I’m a bit nervous about the fighting, as this will be the most fighting I have ever done on stage, and definitely the most complicated. I try to stay fit and so will continue doing so for this role… and practice will make perfect! Also, the great cast that we have helps me, because they are all professionals and wonderful, hard-working and talented people that I trust.”

Pippa Mackie

Pippa Mackie is circumspect when it comes to concerns about the possibility of a portrayal that caricatures characters in an over-the-top lampoon rather than playing up the satire without compromising the broad comedic strokes. She speaks confidently about the focus given by director Ryan Gladstone: “Ryan is an extremely talented comedic and physical actor/director. It’s comforting to have him as the captain of this wild ship. I tend to go to the ends of what I believe a character can do and trust the director to take the reins. The script is clear and specific and I am a huge fan of the cast. Ryan’s direction demands honesty rather than playing for “laughs”. I believe laughs are a result of a great script and honesty.”

Ms. Mackie is equally optimistic about her character, Pam, who is quite possibly the most repressed character in this play. When asked what kind of preparation was involved in portraying her gradual growing self-awareness, the Jessie-nominated actor says: “Pam wants to believe the good in everything and has a child-like innocence; it takes a lot for her to break. We are still in the thick of rehearsals, but my understanding of her relationship with Wendy and everyone in this play is that she wants everything to be fine and dandy, but the circumstances throw her off balance. She is like a wet puppy dog who accidentally fell in an ocean and is desperately trying to stay afloat. Also, when someone has been pent up for so long… they are bound to bust.”

What should be clear after this interview is that the female contingent of Hunter Gatherers are both thoroughly engaged in what could turn out to be the performances of their lives. If Ms. Mackie’s puppy-dog simile holds any water, and the performance measures up to its riveting read, then this play has the potential to signal a compelling sea-change in Canadian theatre.

An interview with Peter Corlone and Jay Clift
The men of Staircase Theatre's Hunter Gatherers

Dates and Venue
30 October – 15 November 2014, 8pm (2pm matinees Nov 8 & 15) | Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive

Interviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

Having spent an enjoyable hour interviewing the women of Hunter Gatherers, I wondered what the men of this overheated, supercharger of a play might have to offer, so I set my mind to the task of challenging Jay Clift and Peter Corlone to come clean about their respective roles in this drama. First, Mr. Corlone who plays Tom the Doctor—Wendy’s husband, and last, Jay Clift who takes the meaty role (pun intended) of Richard—Pam’s main squeeze.

When asked how he intends to physically play up the fact that Tom and Wendy seem to be a mismatched couple, Corlone says, “mostly, it will be through distance in fact! There are many moments where I try and get close to her, or share vulnerability with her, as a symbol of Tom's early desire to maintain the marriage, or façade thereof.” Sounds like a lot of marriages.

Peter Carlone and Jasy Clift

Also like a lot of marriages—and like Richard—Tom lusts after his friend’s wife, but it is certainly a less overt lusting than Richard’s. I wondered how Corlone intended to show this difference, and when I asked him he said, “I don’t think it comes from a place of lust really, or rather I’m not playing it that way. Hopefully that will maintain the difference. Rather, I think Tom genuinely cares for all the characters in the play. Especially Pam, who seems to take a genuine interest in Tom.”

Considering this, there seems to be a smoldering resentment Tom has towards Richard. I asked Corlone how he planned to convey or portray that resentment in a way so as to make the final sequence between he and Pam appear most natural and believable. He said, “I think the smoldering resentment needs to stay clear in my mind so it can inform the pace of the sequence between Pam and Tom. And yet, at the same time, I want to remember that I do love (in many ways) Richard. Because what is worse, revenge sought on an enemy? Or revenge against someone you loved who betrayed you?”

Also important is the extent to which Corlone’s role as Tom has the most ‘to do’ with the character development of Wendy. Were there any special preparations necessary to set just the ‘right chemistry’ in motion between Tom and Wendy? “Good Question. Maybe we should have a little fight right before heading on stage! Other than that, it’s basically a matter of considering ‘the moment before’ and keeping that present in your mind as you head out into the wild world that is Hunter Gatherers.”

Considering all of these, it is important to understand that these characters have a long history. So I wondered what, apart from dialogue, are some of the ways that Corlone as an actor goes about making it seem like Tom has known the others forever. He said, “one thing that helps is that I have met all of these people before! Some of them are very good long time friends of mine! I think [these character’s] history with each other is a very bizarre one.”

So Peter Corlone as Tom! What is it that Corlone has to do to ‘attain’ this character? What is the most challenging thing about this role? “Honestly, it’s a technical thing more than anything else. I have much less experience in theatre than the other actors, but I have a LOT of experience in Comedy. So there is this nagging habit inside my head telling me to ‘play for laughs’ at every turn. But it is more important to stay true to the scene and to serve the story. Let the laughs come from that! So Tom’s subservience is not so much a funny characterization like someone out of the show ‘Archer’ and more of a tragic character. Turns out it’s still really funny.” So that is a glimpse of Peter Corlone’s upcoming dramatic enactment of Tom.

While Corlone appears to have a fairly intellectual approach for someone who admits to being first a comedian—then an actor, Jay Clift claims to be more physical than intellectual when it comes to acting. Nevertheless, both men made impressive responses to my admittedly somewhat academic questions. The following interview with Jay Clift, both revealing and enigmatic, provides a colourful look at the powerful, complex character of Richard.

Upon my first read of Hunter Gatherers, it seemed to me that Richard has an over-reaching desire to transcend self and achieve a kind of cosmic oneness. So I asked Mr. Clift how he intended to use physicality to convey this need. He said, “I think Richard’s desires are pretty obvious throughout; he is simple that way, as is my approach to portraying him. I think this desire is reflected in how loose and relaxed Richard is physically, to the extent that it’s as though he is willing his body to melt into the world around him. Without his keen awareness of instinct, I believe he would become almost sloth-like in his physicality.” It seems that the challenge for Mr. Clift will be to turn the potential for torpor into irascible temerity.

After having read the play, I found myself particularly intrigued by what Mr. Clift might have in the sense of a basic backstory behind the conflict between Tom and Richard. He emphasized friendly competition and camaraderie in his response by saying that “in a basic way, I think Richard needs to constantly out muscle Tom in order to have some control over a world that is increasingly out of his control. He longs for the days when it was survival of the fittest because he would thrive during those times. The increasing intellectualism of the modern world has him lagging behind the rest of mankind. Tom is a symbol of this intellectualism, so Richard feels compelled to dominate him in any way he can. Tom, although mannishly inferior, both resents and secretly covets Richard’s dominance, naturally this leads to a dynamic and unpredictable conflict.” Spot on analysis like this makes me more eager to see Clift’s portrayal.

Given the cooking role, Richard has in the play, I was curious of the extent to which Clift planned to use this feature to sublimate the sexual tension between his character and Wendy. He took the opposite tack in his response: “It’s funny because in some way I believe there is no attempt to sublimate the tension. I see the cooking as foreplay; it just so happens that Wendy and Richard keep getting interrupted. Still not sure that they would care all that much if they got caught.” I’m guessing that the heat won’t keep this character out of the kitchen!

When asked what he finds most difficult about the role of Richard, Jay Clift has this to say: “Richard is more gregarious than Tom, but he’s also more oblivious to those around him and he has less going on intellectually than I do. Not to say that I am some genius, but I am more self-conscious and insecure than Richard is; my brain is working more to that end, filling the gap between my personal qualities and his has been quite the challenge. As Richard, I am walking in the shoes of someone who in some way, I wish I was, and that’s weird and scary.” So there you have it, Mr. Clift: the interplay between life and art, or art imitating the life for which we yearn.

As far as the above question goes, it begs the next question: Do the physical challenges of your role as Richard become more complex as the play progresses? If so, how do you accommodate these challenges? Clift replies, “I’ve chosen to be pretty simple with the physicality. I’m protected in every way that I need to be in order to accommodate the challenges of the physicality, but that being said I haven’t been too demanding of myself. I’m strong and fit to begin with so it hasn’t been too bad. Richard simplifies physically as the play progresses; I just start doing more of what human beings were doing the hundred thousand years before us, so in an evolutionary sense it’s really not much of a stretch.” Basic instincts prevail once again on the Hunter Gatherers set!

Before closing the interview, I asked a couple of questions about the marriage relationship between Richard and Pam: whether Richard resents his wife and Clift’s portrayal of that; and a few of the ways Clift intends to play up the fact that his character and Pam are a mismatched couple. Jay Clift plays his cards close to his chest, but I did get a few telling responses: “I think there is some resentment there; I think Richard wants Pam to be more like himself: wild and animalistic. However, the script doesn’t give a lot of opportunity to portray this and I believe that adding it in would go a bit beyond Richard’s simple nature. It may help to think of Richard as a giant goldfish. Pam and Richard don’t get many opportunities to be physical when all is said and done, but I think that the fact there is little interaction between them physically speaks volumes about how wrong they are for each other in their current states. As for our differences individually, Pam is definitely more uptight. I imagine there is a knot in her back that would take years of massage therapy to remove. Richard is relaxed to the other extreme, right down to his fashion sense. Although the differences are a little more subtle externally, internally it’s the difference between pre- and post-Mount St. Helens.” So there you have it—from tame fish to molten lava, this character has to be seen to be appreciated. Thanks for the taste, Mr. Clift.

If you read the interview with the women from Hunter Gatherers (and if not what are you waiting for?), you know they are just as varied and complex as their men have proven to be. So take it all in and get out and see the play for yourself starting October 30 at the Havana.

© 2014 Roger Wayne Eberle