A boisterous satire on bourgeois values and leisure class ennui, Matt Lyle's Barbecue Apocalypse is one of the few, truly sublime comedies in recent memory. It has an actual narrative that supports the jokes , fueled by legitimate and sharp observations about life, society and human behavior, rather than a souped-up gag machine, seeking to submerge us in a hurricane of laffs. When Barbecue Apocalypse opens, a sweet young married couple is fretting over the imminent arrival of guests for a relatively casual, outdoor gathering. But upward mobility and a thousand other concerns is playing havoc with their emotions. How can they be impressive with the lawn half mowed, mismatched furniture, and a dull menu? Wynne, a testosterone-driven troglodyte arrives with an agreeable (if somewhat shallow) young girlfriend, and another couple, by contrast, more cerebral than visceral. The husband has the especially annoying habit of consulting Google from his Blackberry at the slightest provocation.
The festivities are rapidly deteriorating when the apocalypse hits, just before the curtain falls on act one. When we next join our intrepid partyers, it is post Apocalypse and the host and hostess are thrilled to have trapped a raccoon for supper. Wynne is wandering in a stupor and the braniacs so stymied in act one now happily, carelessly boink like bunnies. A soldier of fortune appears, posing a genuine threat to their now edgy existence.
Barbecue Apocalypse turns on the idea that modern technology has solved so many of our problems that we are now obsessed with trivial complaints, and the men are losing touch with their virility. Wynne, whose seemingly crude expressions of machismo are mocked earlier in the play, are contrasted to the chilling, understated ferocity of the soldier of fortune. For all the time spent encouraging us to feel contempt for him, Wynne is the one who ultimately salvages their lives. We've become so dainty and civilized that our lives lack any real juice. We are succumbing to malaise. Thus in the second act, when the characters are jolted out of compulsive anxiety by the demands of survival, their zest is restored. They must resolve the pressing issues of hunger, safety, shelter, and suddenly, the petty issues take care of themselves.
Kitchen Dog has created a very smart, witty, satisfying show in Matt Lyle's Barbecue Apocalypse. The humor is more than enough to keep us entertained while Lyle's subtext works its sorcery. The cast (Michael Federico, Martha Harms, Leah Spillman, Max Hartman, Barry Nash, Miranda Parham & Jeff Swearingen) is flawless, supple and inspired in their performance. It is pure, raucous bliss.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Barbecue Apocalypse (World Premiere Mainstage of the 2014 New Works Festival )playing May 23rd-June 21st, 2014. The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214-953-1055.