Theater Review: ‘Das Barbecü’ at Hill Country Barbecue Market

By Jonathan Spira on 1 February 2020
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Richard Wagner’s epic “Der Ring der Nibelungen,” known as “The Ring of the Nibelung” in English, is a four-opera cycle that tells of a hoard of gold that is being guarded by the Rhinemaidens.

Seeing the entire cycle takes 15 hours but the folks at On-Site Opera, which presents immersive opera performances in unusual spaces, can take you through a somewhat shortened parody, “Das Barbecü,” in about two and a half hours, with some Texas barbecue on the side.

“Das Barbecü,” with music by Scott Warrender and book and lyrics by Jim Luigs, made its debut in 1991 with the Seattle Opera as a companion piece to a staging of the complete “Ring” cycle.

On-Site takes the parody one step further and stages it in the basement of Hill Country Barbecue Market in the Flatiron District.  Most of your favorite Wagnerian characters are present. Indeed, five energetic performers portray a total of 30 characters including most of those appearing in the original as well as a few additions, such as a Texas Ranger.

Theatergoers enter the dining room-cum-opera house only to find ample portions of brisket, roast chicken, longhorn cheddar macaroni and cheese, sweet potato bourbon mash, and cornbread at the table, served family style.

In “Barbecü” (the u-umlaut is merely faux-foreign branding, as the German word for barbecue is “Grillfest”), the one-eyed two-timing Wotan (Robert Wesley Mason) is transformed from king of the gods to a Texas-style mogul whose long-suffering wife, Fricka (Zuri Washington), tired of his “ring-chasin’ mayhem,” busies herself with her topiaries.

Meanwhile, Brünnhilde (Jessica Fischenfeld) and Gutrune (Justine Aronson) compete to win over Siegfried (David Hughey)

The chaotic evening starts by setting the scene: “There’s a ring of gold in Texas,” they sing.  The performers, who can be found in all corners of the room when not scampering through the rows of tables, give it their all but the pace is far too hurried and even those who know the “Ring” inside and out may be confused.  I found it occasionally hard to keep track of who was who, even though there are minor costume changes to indicate which character the singer is currently performing. The range of music covers Broadway, jazz, country and western, and Texas swing but never veers towards anything resembling the opera whence it came.

There are a few comic moments, far too many mediocre songs, some decent bawdy humor, and the band, led by Emily Senturia, is first rate, but Whitney Locher’s costumes fail to distinguish the characters sufficiently (why is everyone in the cast is wearing a red Hill Country t-shirt?) and the creators’ decision to omit any hint of Wagner’s score is questionable.   One thing is clear: I will without hesitation come back to Hill Country for the brisket.

THE DETAILS

Das Barbecü
Limited engagement through February 11
On-Site Opera
Hill Country Barbecue Market
30 W 26th Street
New York, N.Y. 10010
www.osopera.org/

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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