Saturday, August 08, 2009

Das Barbecu--ACT

Das Barbecü
July 31st-September 6th, 2009
Tickets and Information

When Richard Wagner created his operatic masterpiece The Ring series, the last thing he could have imagined was his tale of grandiose gods, heroic mortals, and mythical creatures being reincarnated into a honky-tonk Country Western soap opera, chalk full of catchy tunes and dance numbers. Alas, such a show not only exists but succeeds in entertaining audiences for the second time at ACT since its commissioning 18 years ago: Das Barbecü.

Don’t know the synopsis of The Ring? That’s alright; it’s too lengthy and involved to describe here, and it’s all laid out for you within the first minute and a half of the show. Basically, intertwined families and lovers struggle with getting what they want, whether that be love, peace and quiet, or a gold ring that has both great power and a great curse attached to whoever possesses it. All this is set somewhere in Texas where dwarves are conniving criminals, giants are kind general contractors, and barbecue is roasted in a six foot deep pit.

Photo by Chris Bennion.

The mood is quickly put in place by the uncompromisingly outrageous costumes and innovative set, both (amazingly) designed by David Zinn. Every vom is used and every inch of stage space is milked; not to mention the mechanical trapdoor is cleverly used for maximum efficiency and effect. Alex Berry's lighting design has its epic moments worthy of an operatic production.The costumes enhance the exaggerated characters but never steal the spotlight from the wonderful performances of the actors.

The dozens of characters that flitter across the stage are played amusingly by a cast of just five: Anne Allgood, Carter J. Davis, Jennifer Sue Johnson, Billie Wildrick, and Richard Ziman. All five manage to give a distinct flair to the handful of personas they each inhabit through the course of the evening (the costume changes and acting choices are so crisp, it’ll take you half of Act 1 to realize the people don’t just happen to look alike).

Photo by Chris Bennion.

With a show so jam-packed with harried costume switches and hurried exits and entrances, it takes a grounded director to keep the production train from going off the rails; Stephen Terrell (who also serves double duty as the choreographer) fits the bill impressively. For all the cheesiness that comes along with a slapstick country opera, Terrell exposes the heart and humanity lying just beneath the layers of tulle and teased hair.

Das Barbecü takes Wagner’s fifteen hour behemoth of an opera and affectionately molds it into an accessible, laugh-filled production that connects with its audience—even those who know little about The Ring, or opera in general.

Review by Kacey Shiflet

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