“Barbecue” uses crass humor to its advantage

by Nikolas Reda-Castelao

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via The New York Times

Barbecue is a show about a family intervention of the youngest member, a “crackhead ho,” who has driven her equally broken family to the ends of their sanity. This is an impeccably written show.

The director, Kent Gash, was unforgivingly blunt, crass and charming when he gave the pre-show reminder that he doesn’t want to hear no body talk during his “damn show” and he better not hear any one’s “damn kid” and why are they bringing thier kid to this show. This was all in lieu of “please silence your phone”.  His show mirrors this attitude. The show explodes with this ebullient lowbrow humor. It is smart and it keeps the banter of its characters from becoming nauseating or too offensive – as it is certainly prone to doing in its tirades – and all the while it becomes something far more interesting than even the outlandish narrative playing out, in the sense of what it argues.  

The writing is good, not because it imploded the audience’s collective lungs with laughter, but because it takes that humor to challenge its own validity and the validity of all stories we hear. The play is a scathing critique of appropriating stories, of how we laugh at the disadvantaged, of being Dionysus to tragedy.

The staging was nice and uncomplicated. Every now and then they did something to catch me off-guard, altering the backdrop scenery or go into meticulous blackouts, with its lighting and the flash of the corkscrew, and so in its unassuming nature it does tremendous work.

Of course, the stage is supplementary and the writing is a theoretical genius. If it wasn’t for the superb, caricature acting of the players, this would be a different review entirely. I could point out, one by one, the skills and splendor of each actor, but I loved them all. Particularly on fire I loved their ability to deliver vernacular, slapstick, timing, and a straight face through some of the most absurd dialogue I’ve heard in years; it ricochets with altered accounts if beheadings, senseless conspiracy theories and non sequitur tangents. How an ensemble could watch someone in hysterical laughter about a beheading without themselves following suit is called finesse.

It may not have been the greatest comedy, but it is incredibly close and hilarious. And, oddly enough, it is strangely insightful and kisses its teeth at its own audience. “Barbecue” is truly masterful.

“Barbecue” ended its run at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St in October.

Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a Staff Writer. Email him at theater@nyunews.com

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