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August 22, 2019
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“Barbeque Apocalypse”: Grilling, chilling and killing

  • The apocalypse changed the behavior of Ash (Trevor Hoffman), Deb (Jess Headington), Lulu (Lyndsey Sivalingam) and Win (J.T. Harper). Photo by Jeff Thomas

By: Janet and Lanny Lowery
April 5, 2019

Most post-apocalyptic stories serve up some kinds of lessons about values and insights about humanity.  Spreckels’ “Barbeque Apocalypse” has just this on the menu seasoned with some bizarre humor.  If you need a show that keeps you laughing from beginning to end, catch this play sometime during the first three weeks in April.  

Artistic Director Sheri Lee Miller reported that she found herself laughing out loud as she first read the play.  On opening night, she laughed even more as seven very talented actors shot out one humorous line after another.  Credit Director Larry Williams with some excellent blocking and choreography, especially when Mike and Win engage in physical confrontation and later when Deb goes commando on a ham radio.

Once again, Set Designer Elizabeth Bazzano became the silent actress by creating the perfect scene, another character, the backyard and deck of a modest suburban home.  A small circular table, mismatched lawn chairs, garbage bags leaning against a fence, a long cooler to hold a 24-pack of Budweiser, near dead plants and a broom all set against a wood sided house that gives a glimpse through the back door of an old movie poster tacked on the wall inside.  Reminiscent of Bazzano’s award winning design for “The Sugar Bean Sisters,” sets like this make the story begin before the actors take the stage.

Matt Lyle’s play in two acts separated by a year gives a peek at characters before and after the apocalypse, and it attempts to envision what would happen to certain characters under a different set of circumstances.  In this case, how would friends behave after the apocalypse has changed the world?  The play follows a pattern created by James Barrie, who wrote “Peter Pan.”  In Barrie’s “The Admirable Crichton,” rich and high-standing socialites find themselves on a deserted island following a shipwreck.  The butler, Crichton, rises above the aristocrats to become the leader because he has skills for survival.  Deb, in “Barbeque Apocalypse” finds herself in Crichton’s role in Act Two.

Deb, played by Jess Headington, the devoted, loving wife in both acts, defers to her husband no longer after the apocalypse.  Her fortitude and her survival savvy nearly become overshadowed by her savage regression.  Headington never loses sight of her character, the suburban housewife Deb even as she becomes enthralled with her Amazon-like role.  Headington, amazing in “The Twelve Dates of Christmas,” takes another step toward being one of Sonoma County’s premiere actresses.

Sam Coughlin plays a sort of milk toast Mike, Deb’s husband.  At the beginning of the play, Deb and Mike play off each other as they demonstrate their anxieties.  Why the barbeque?  Deb says, “People don’t expect much from a barbeque.”  The nervous chatter goes back and forth: “We never grew up,” thinking about their thumb-tacked movie posters and bean-bag chairs contrasted with the success of their thirty-something friends.  Both agree, “We have no style.”  And worst of all, they both show feelings of inferiority and inadequacy that makes them fear other friends.  “I hate people who are good at things,” which all of their friends are.

And right on cue, enters such a friend who has the perfect name, Win.  Played by J.T. Harper, Win has won at everything: he has a successful career, beautiful young ladies, and the ability to do well with everything that he touches.  Harper really plays two different characters:  the confident and commanding “win”ner in Act One and the post-apocalyptic Win who should be called “Lose” in Act Two.  Harper presents two disparate people, and one does not resemble the other in the least.

Win’s girlfriend, Glory, played by Katie Kelley, has the youth and beauty that makes her not only a trophy for Win, but also another thorn that causes Deb to feel even more inadequate.  Kelley plays Glory as the ideal foil for Deb and the right ornament for Win.

Ash and Lulu, played by Trevor Hoffman and Lyndsey Sivalingam, the modern couple who seem to be into eating the correct foods and following the latest technology, appear in act one as the perfect match.  Immediately, their couple dysfunction becomes apparent as Ash seems to be more involved with his smart phone than with his wife and friends.  And Lulu has just the right answer for everything, and she knows it.

Matt T. Witthaus, a frequent performer at Spreckels, escalates the grotesque flavor of the play with his portrayal of the savage antagonist, John.  He forces the dark humor into the deepest side of midnight, and the impending crisis moves quickly to a very surprising climax.

Spreckels warns, in its press release, “While very funny, ‘Barbeque Apocalypse’ contains sexual language and a graphic act of violence.  Were it a film, it would probably rated R.”  And while this warning proved accurate, one cannot help but think that this might be a subconscious, and surely not intended, lure to attract audiences just as the duke and king in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” advertised their riverside show with the add-on line: “LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED.”  

If Spreckels’ warning has enticed you to witness violence and hear naughty language, if you wonder what life will be like after the holocaust, if you enjoy watching seven superb actors create hilarity, you have plenty of time to see the show.  “Barbeque Apocalypse” plays through Apr. 20, Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 2 p.m. and Thurs., Apr. 11 & 18, 7 p.m.  you can contact Spreckels at 707-588-3400 or online, www.spreckelsonline.com. For tickets and more information.