Chicago Theater Review: BARBECUE APOCALYPSE (The Ruckus at the Athenaeum Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 17, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


The peculiar premise behind Matt Lyle’s lifestyle comedy, now running in a moderately intriguing Midwest premiere by The Ruckus, is that for some folks the end of the world will be a character-building, equalizing opportunity–a second chance for losers who didn’t earn a first one. If it doesn’t kill them, adversity brings friends together, if only for self-protection amid mass predation. Togetherness means never having to say you’re dead.

Kevin Lambert (Mike) and Andrew L. Saenz (Win)

We first meet the wimpy hosts of this backyard barbecue—dweebish, self-deprecating carpenter Mike (Kevin Lambert), whose greatest triumph is the deck he built for just such fun in the sun, though he lives in terror that his Weber grill will explode. Mike’s equally insecure help(less)mate is Deb (Allison Hendrix), who doesn’t want the guests to see her supposedly inferior house, even to use the bathroom. The outside is little better: The patio furniture doesn’t match, the fence is falling down, and the potted plants are failing fast.

Christine Vrem-Ydstie (Glory), Andrew L. Saenz (Win), Bryan Bosque (Ash), Kevin Lambert (Mike), Jillian Rea (Lulu), and Allison Hendrix (Deb)

Perhaps this utterly commonplace couple are right to dread their godawful “foodie” guests, shallow souls marinating in their own phoniness. Basically one-trick ponies, these quirky creatures are narcissistic Win (Andrew L. Saenz), a judgmental jerk who lives to put folks down (as in bust balls); his dancer girlfriend Glory (Christine Vrem-Ydstie), a dingbat airhead allergic to current events; cellphone-manic nerd Ash (Bryan Bosque) and his morbidly self-aware, supposedly pregnant, and booze-crazed sweetheart Lulu (Jillian Rea). Obnoxious Win makes an ugly play for the soused hostess that ends in a very pathetic fist fight.

Bryan Bosque (Ash), Jillian Rea (Lulu), Kevin Lambert (Mike), Allison Hendrix (Deb), and Andrew L. Saenz (Win)

Given false friends who are so many entropy-laden negative numbers, the barbecue doesn’t go well—until 4G-addicted Ash learns from his Twitter feed that the world is collapsing from an unstated nemesis.

Andrew L. Saenz (Win), Christine Vrem-Ydstie (Glory), Bryan Bosque (Ash), Kevin Lambert (Mike), Jillian Rea (Lulu), and Allison Hendrix (Deb).

The second act of this contemporary crisis comedy turns on the first like a door on a hinge. The aftermath of this vague Armageddon enacts a “sea change” in these past pals. Suffice it to say that a scary threat (Jon Patrick Penick) brings them together as the barbecue never could. Assorted foraging, hunting and gathering, and eating raccoons and occasional bipeds are the occasion to which they were meant to rise. (It also helps to have a house that’s too ugly to loot.) As the denizens of The Walking Dead discover, there’s a lot less time for shame, self-doubt, and survivor guilt when you’re working overtime just to get to tomorrow. Suddenly the Weber grill has a purpose it never had as a prop.

Allison Hendrix (Deb) and Kevin Lambert (Mike)

But this paltry discovery—that all that really matters is “food, and safety and shelter and love”–doesn’t make amends for the cartoons that Lyle and earnest director Thomas Murray pass off as people in the sitcom first act. Seven sturdy actors just can’t make silk out of these worms.

Andrew L. Saenz (Win), Bryan Bosque (Ash), Allison Hendrix (Deb), and Kevin Lambert (Mike)

photos by Jeff Bivens

Allison Hendrix (Deb)

Barbecue Apocalypse
The Ruckus
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on March 15, 2015
for tickets, call 773.935.6875 or visit

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