Barbecue: Theater review by Adam Feldman
As Barbecue starts, four messed-up trailer-trashy siblings meet in a park to plan an intervention on behalf of their even more damaged sister, Barbara, who sometimes goes by the sobriquet Zippity Boom. When their squabbling continues in the second scene, however, the characters are played by black actors. This is just the first of many snappy switcheroos in Robert O’Hara’s brash, taboo-flouting roast of race and representation.
Though identically named and clothed, the families are not quite the same. The black Lillie Anne (Kim Wayans) is primmer than her white equivalent (Becky Ann Baker); the white Adlean (a priceless Constance Shulman) is more haggard than the black one (the marvelous Benja Kay Thomas); the black James T (Marc Damon Johnson) has an evener keel than his redneck counterpart (Paul Niebanck). Most similar are the whiskey-swigging, leopard-dressed Maries (Arden Myrin and Heather Alicia Simms); most unalike, for reasons it would be a spoiler to reveal, are the Barbaras (Tamberla Perry and the sly Samantha Soule).
How and why these characters differ are at the core of O’Hara’s clever dissection of cultural typology. As in the playwright's hilarious Bootycandy, most of the scenes involve extreme, broadly drawn comic conflict. I suspect that Barbecue could be even stronger if it took a longer step out of caricature, but that’s clearly not what O’Hara is after. For better or worse, his satire is relentless.—Adam Feldman
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Robert O’Hara. Directed by Kent Gash. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. One intermission.
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