LETTERS TO EDITOR
BOOKS and CDs
Type too small?
The Last Barbecue
Unlike some of the company's past plays this is a rather quiet affair with little happening and many pregnant pauses. Not even the briquettes in the barbecue send off sparks -- in fact the party never materializes and the plot, if you can call it that, revolves round the preparations and the post-mortems of this non-event.
Those preparations make for a maddeningly slow but, as it turns out, purposeful, opening scene. The sound of a droning lawn mower outside the fence separating two middle-class houses in an anywhere USA town introduces Ted (Leo Farley), the surly paterfamilias of the nameless family through whom playwright Brett Neveu unfurls his despairing view of lives of non-communicative desperation. As you watch Ted silently assemble the accoutrements of backyard comfort you sense his total lack of pleasure, either in the warmth of summer or the pending get-together. Yet there's something about the slow, measured execution of those humdrum chores that prompts giggles, as does the sparse dialogue punctuated with cliches.
Fred's wife Jan (Barbara Myers) is at first heard but not seen by way of a few banal questions tossed out from inside the house just as he disappears into the garage where he can't hear her. By the time husband and wife are finally together on stage we realize that Mr. Neveu isn't just presenting us with meaningless busyness but has, like a painter, carefully prepped his canvas for an often funny but mostly disturbing portrait of nice, ordinary people. Feelings simmer beneath the surface of their relationships but never fully explode.
The fact that nothing really happens is exactly the point. Like the barbecue that doesn't come off because it coincides with son Barry's ten year high school reunion and because the guest of honor never arrives, nothing happens to stir these people out of their ruts. Fred and Jan are condemned to remain platitude spouting emotional automatons, their mantra being " it doesn't matter." To make matters worse, Barry (Peyton Thomas) will remain what he most wants not to be, "an asshole"-- as his wife Tammy (Moira MacDonald) and his ex-girlfriend Kathy (Elizabeth Elkins) are unable to get in touch with their feelings.
Unsuccessful as these characters are in interacting more meaningfully with each other, the actors interpreting them succeed admirably. All are attuned to the cadences of the dialogue that leaves the speakers isolated in their shells and count on us to fill in their histories from the pauses as well as the words.
Mr. Farley's Fred is alone worth a trip to 29th Street. His dour facial expression, his body language, his stinginess with words and his flash of feeling during a brief monologue in act two encapsulate this tale of lives that are too mundane to be tragic or funny but are nevertheless the stuff of tragedy and comedy. Barbara Myers is every awkward woman you've ever met, mouthing non sequiturs, an empty smile pasted on her face. Moira MacDonald, who also co-directs, is terrific as another Jan in the making. Peyton Thomas brings many of the comic moments to this bleak house. Elizabeth Elkins taps into the doubly isolated Kathy who has been drawn back to her home town by the "reunion of assholes" but now that she's here can't remember much about anything she experienced, including her romance with Barry.
For all the Pinteresque pauses, director Tim Corcoran and his cast shrewdly clarify the never expressed feelings buried in the mutterings about missing briquettes, playing croquet, high school memories and a life ended abruptly while mowing the lawn. Like any play you're likely to see these days, the World Trade Center tragedy may affect your feelings for the characters. The tighly controlled Jan is likely to come across as a symbol of larger scale efforts to bring a sense of unity to those hearing only their own drum beat. You may want to toss some of those briquettes at all these people and shout "wake up and hug each other before a lawn mower accident or a terrorist gets in the way!"
Links to other 29th Street Rep shows reviewed by CurtainUp
South of No North