Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's a reunion. It's just for fun. (Bring your own baggage.)

It's been interesting reading the reviews of Brett Neveu's The Last Barbecue. And I am taken aback by the dedication and thoroughness in exploring the underbelly of the play taking place in middle America. It's impressive to read such deep thought into a play about a family barbecue that fails to get underway when the guest of honor never shows.

But I also find it "sad and funny" to read such dissection of the despair. As one respected writer commented: "...the devastating view of everyday people who would surely have ended it all at 18 had they only known what their lives would look like 10, 20 and 30 years down the road." Really? Suicide? Just cause Ted only wants to enjoy a quiet evening alone in the backyard? Because he gets frustrated when he can't find the briquettes? Because he dreams of the things he used to do when he was younger: dreams that are now buried in the back of his closet?

Ann James who plays Jan, the mom who is determined not to let anyone or anything dampen the spirit of "fun!," told me a story of the last time we performed the show. One woman approached her after the show and said, "You frustrated me to end! You reminded me of my mother." Another woman after the same performance came up to Ann and said, "You were so sweet. You reminded me of my mother." Ann told me, "It was at that moment I knew we were on the right track."

Let the audience bring their own baggage.

For both productions the cast was given this extraordinarily difficult yet simple task: Do nothing. Stay on your mantra. Say the lines. Adhere to the rhythm. During a pause, keep the silence until it becomes unbearable. And more than anything else: No added subtext. No tricks. No acting. (Mamet would be proud.)

I have always loved Brett's work cause he just tells it like he is. He writes what he hears. He observes. It seems random and profound at the same time. Like art. Like life. Like poetry, I'm not always sure what it all is supposed to mean, yet it is profoundly meaningful to me.

So it is because of this that I also argue with another writer I thoroughly respect when he says "few audience members are likely to have Chekhov, Ionesco, Beckett and Pinter floating around through their heads to help build some kind of intellectual resonance with this difficult and at times depressing material, an emotional connection may be an even harder thing to expect." I will respectfully counter: our audiences don't need intellectual resonance. They are all alive and human and American and because of this I bet they have experienced a barbecue or two and maybe even a reunion.

I find it just as ironic that while everyone (myself included) is here trying to dissect what it all means , and uncovering some deep pain underneath, Brett sits in the back of the dark theater laughing. All we have to do is listen to Barry and Ted, the two competing "assholes." The two clowns laughing at each other when the joke of life is on the other one, yet defensive when the tables get turned: "It wasn't a big deal. It's a reunion. It's just for fun."

I sit in the back of the theater too. Watching and listening to audiences. Hearing the laughter of recognition. I would argue that most of our audiences don't see despair: they just see real life. Funny and sad. We all have dreams, most of which are never fully realized. We rail against our parents and then often end up just like them. We complain about the briquettes being in the wrong place and want to throw Frisbees at our loved ones sometimes. And man! I would have to argue that Ted isn't just triumphant that he was able to drive his son's ex-girlfriend away. Ted is also relieved by the end of the play to be the asshole left sitting in the wet grass all alone, as opposed to being the man next door dead at 54 from mowing his lawn.

I love The Last Barbecue because like life it unnerves me: it is deeply profound, completely meaningless and totally random at the same time. What the hell does it all mean?! We are always asking life's biggest question.

So I am glad to still be here, existing in my own suburban backyard. Left here to grapple with simple annoyances, few answers and lots and lots of questions. Existential? I guess so.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Beautiful and insightful words, Ann, and so right to share these insights with a wider audience. Your take on theatrical experience -- what we bring to it, what they bring to it, hell, whatever gets brought -- is spot on. What you bring informs the world of the good play. Nobody comes empty handed.