Robert O’Hara’s play Barbecue is funny, thought provoking, filled with surprises and at times structurally confusing. It is the surprises, particularly one in the second act that make it difficult to write about since to reveal much is to act as a spoiler, but to remain unforthcoming does not allow the reviewer to do justice to the work. Boston’s Lyric Stage, where Barbecue is currently playing, carries secrecy to an unnecessary extreme refusing the audience programs until the end of the first act.
Barbecue takes place for the most part in a public park somewhere in Middle America. It begins with James T O’Mallery (Bryan T. Donovan) a brutish white man drinking a beer and talking on his cell phone as he waits for three of his sisters to join him. The park is set up with picnic tables and a barbecue that is never lit. Lilly Anne (Adrienne Krstansky), the family’s eldest sister has called her siblings together in order to hold an “intervention” for their youngest sister Barbara, otherwise known as Zippity Boom because of her addictions. When she drinks, she goes zippity; when she uses drugs, she goes boom. As James T. says, “there ain’t nothin’ in between.” Lilly Anne planned the barbecue as a lure to ensure that Barbara, who enjoys them, shows up.
Her unrealistic scheme is to save Barbara from the early deaths of two of their siblings caused by their addiction. She wants to send her off to a luxurious rehabilitation center in Alaska for alcoholics and drug addicts, complete with horseback riding lessons,. The family members, all of whom drink, take drugs, or both, argue about the efficacy of the solution while James T. keeps repeating, “We ain’t no goddam normal family.”
During the quarrel the lights go down, and when they come up again the O’Mallery family is black. Like the white family, they are uneducated, into drugs and alcohol, and “trashy,” but more exaggeratedly so. The story line is the same for the remainder of the act, which has two more scenes, one with white performers followed by one with black actors. The repetition is comical, not boring as one might imagine. Each final scene ends with the appearance of Zippity Boom who as the white woman (Deb Martin) walks into the park and as the black woman (Ramona Lisa Alexander) is gagged and tied to a post having been tased by her brother as a way of controlling her.
The first act gives the impression that the play is in some ways a study of lower class rural families, but the second act swiftly overturns that idea when the two Barbaras appear as dominant characters. I think it is safe to say without revealing too much that the second act nullifies in many ways what happens in the first. The plot turnaround is clever and novel.
Although the entire cast is very strong, the two Barbaras shine perhaps because their material sets them apart from the rest of the play and gives them the opportunity to play different aspects of their personalities and emotional lives.
Summer L. Williams is to be commended for the excellent production. She is no stranger to Robert O’Hara’s work having directed his Bootycandy at SpeakEasy earlier in the season.
Scenic Design ………………….. Jessica Pizzuti
Costume Design ………………… Tyler Kinney
Lighting Design ……………….. Jen Rock
Sound Design ………………….. David Wilson
Dialect Coach ………………….. Paul D’Agostino
Hair and Makeup Designer ……. Amber Voner
Ramona Lisa Alexander, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Bryan T. Donavan, Jackie Davis, Adrianne Krstansky, Seb artin, James R. Milord, Christine Power, Jasmine Rush
Barbecue will play through May 7, 2017.