Barbecue, written and hilariously introduced by Robert O’Hara was an utterly unique and thought provoking look into stereotypes, similarities and racial identities. Receiving its debut at the Public Theater, Barbecue was a real treat.
Jason Lyons and Clint Ramos brought terrific lighting and a masterfully colored stage to life, bringing the audience into a picnic/barbecue setting in a lusciously green forest. Paul Tazewell hit every cultural note with his costume design and Director Kent Gash, Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham found a way to emulate O’Hara’s conveyance of the striking similarities between inner city black and trailer park white trash families with a severe plot twist in the middle.
Allow me to explain without giving away too much. Barbecue is a play about a family, the O’Mallerys, that is trying to stage an intervention for their “crack head ho” sister, Barbara or as they prefer to call her: Zippity Boom and just how far that story goes.
Barbara (Tamberla Perry and Samantha Soule) is the tail-end of any memory regarding a jail cell, running from the police, working a corner—she has gotten to a level in her life where her family, particularly her sister Lillie Ann, cannot handle. The caveat: both a black family and white family are performing the exact same story but with their own cultural twang, complete with “The Nae-Nae” graciously performed by the white family.
Both Tamberla Perry and Samantha Soule took a character with generally un-relatable characteristics and made her relatable to almost any family at large. I found that I put Barbara right in with the “crazies” in my family quite easily and the rest of the O’Mallery family were no exception.
Opening the play was James T. (Marc Damon Johnson and Paul Niebanck), the sole brother of the family and not without his own problems. “Addicted” to weed and alcohol, James T. is upset about trying to convince Zippity Boom to do anything as she is volatile and dangerous. Johnson and Niebanck both allow James T. to culminate into the ever-concerned but wary of showing it brother.
Beginning the setup of the barbecue was Lillie Ann (Becky Ann Baker and Kim Wayans). Lillie Ann is the sister that has chosen to overcompensate for her family’s drug and alcohol addicted madness. Both Baker and Wayans brought to life a character that will stop at nothing to get her family back on track and the twist at the second act is worth a watch!
Her other two sisters, Adlean (Constance Shulman and Benja Kay Thomas) and Marie (Arden Myrin and Heather Alicia Simms) both added to the ruse-filled barbecue. Adlean, wrought with cancer and addicted to pain pills becomes the brother or sister that has fallen into our overwrought medical system. Both Shulman and Thomas were hilarious to watch bring so many stereotypes to life.
Marie was the sister that judges others but somehow finds herself under the radar of being judged. Also “recreationally addicted” to crack and quite the alcoholic, Marie tries to escape her own intervention by participating in Barbara’s. Yet again, Myrin and Simms made Marie that weird aunt that believes that canned corn causes cancer and that the Middle East is responsible for all of our problems.
Steppenwolf Theater Company did not miss a beat in commissioning Barbecue’s world premier. Not every family has these levels of issues and obstacles but this stereotypical and analytical look into the lives of two culturally dichotomous families in a side-by-side way is a look into the American Family and its values. If for nothing else, see the play for an evening of laughter and a real look at what the line between cultures is.
Review By: Alexandra Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus