By Brett Neveu
Directed by Ann Filmer
Produced by 16th Street Theater
Read between the lines.
I have to admit I walked into this production with a prejudice against Brett Neveu. I had seen 4 Murders and Harmless, but got nothing out of either play. However, The Last Barbecue has given me a new appreciation and understanding for Brett Neveu and his unique style of writing.
The Last Barbecue is a dark comedy about a backyard barbecue to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a neighbor’s death, which coincides with a ten-year high school reunion. The plot is simple, so the excitement comes from being a voyeur into human interaction, or lack thereof. Brett Neveu is an American amalgamation Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett: relying heavily on pause, subtext and stagnation. The characters in The Last Barbecue use words as weapons, and memories (albeit with selective recall) as sanctuary. Director Ann Filmer has a long relationship with Neveu, and this was evident in her orchestration of his language. However, I felt the director’s hand was too apparent in the first half of the play, making the awkward moments feel manufactured. Once the play settled into itself the sparks began to fly. The two members of the cast who stood out (one good/one bad) were Donald Blair and Ann James. Blair commanded the stage from the moment he entered. On the flipside, James’ characterization seemed to aimlessly wander, causing her to be in her own play.
This production truly captured Middle America thanks to scenic designer Ian Zywica’s realistic backyard, which took me back to my formative years in the suburbs. Costume designer Karen Kawa is also to applaud with her eye for detail (I have two words: Fanny Pack).
If you have not yet made it out to 16th Street Theater, grasp this opportunity to experience a fine production by a splendid theater company.
At Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn IL, (708) 795-6704. www.16thstreettheater.org. Tickets are $16, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm and Saturdays at 2:00pm & 5:00pm, running time is 80 minutes with no intermission, Through August 8.