|Lamar Legend and Shaunyce Omar in Barbecue (Naomi Ishisaka)|
(at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute)
Through June 25, 2017
Nothing is quite what it seems in this Robert O’Hara play, Barbecue, mounted by Intiman Theatre and directed by talented Malika Oyetimein. Most anyone who writes about this play will have to sketch in oblique descriptions so we don’t give away too many plot twists – and saying that gives you too much information about plot twists!
O’Hara is deft with dialogue. He catches how people tease and express emotions with toss away lines. He plunges the audience into the middle of scenes and lets us catch up with what is going on. He also has a strong point of view. His plays – so far, Intiman and Oyetimein have done two including Bootycandy in 2015 – are part uproariously funny, and part disturbing, and always challenging the status quo.
Barbecue examines two identical-seeming families. They both come to the same park, somewhere in “middle America” we’re told by the press blurb, and they all coincidentally share the same names. Lillie Anne (Cynthia Lauren Tewes and Shaunyce Omar) has called all the sisters and irritated brother James T (Lamar Legend and Charles Leggett) together. Adlean (Macall Gordon and Rachel Pate) and Marie (Angel Brice and Carol Roscoe) are as reluctant as can be. But they all really do want their sister Barbara (Kamaria Harris and Eryn Joslyn), who they also call Zippety Boom as a nickname, to get off drugs and alcohol and go to rehab.
The pretend intervention they’re staging is at any moment going to collapse under their antics. You just know you’re watching a family train wreck!
This is a terrifically engaging concept and it works really well. They’re funny, profane, and hypocritical, all at once. They’re all over-the-top and skirt stereotypes really hard. And that’s part of the point.
The casting works well. It’s great to see Ms. Tewes back on the stage and her character is the most grounded of her “family,” along with Ms. Pate for her “family.”
The outdoor set is beautifully designed by Julia Hayes Welch with patchy grass, rundown picnic tables and a credibly corroded swing set. Costume designer Kelly McDonald seems to be having fun with her vibrant choices of costuming. Sound is pretty critical in this show, so Matt Starritt’s choices of songs help set tone and time.
Since you have to see it to know what it all stacks up to, it’s really hard to go any further. The cast seems to be having fun cussing and kicking. Points are made without bopping the audience on the head. Laughter is often a way to talk about tough topics without making them seem like a big deal.
Aside from the cursing, this might be one you can bring your teens to. It might be a good conversation opener afterward. Indeed, you and whomever you attend with may have a great time dissecting it all, too.