|James R. Milord, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Jackie Davis, Jasmine Rush|
& Ramona Lisa Alexander in "Barbecue"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)
Such a work is Barbecue, by playwright Robert O'Hara, which first appeared off-Broadway in 2015, and is now receiving its local premiere at Lyric Stage Company. It's the story of a family who gathers at a public park for an ostensible barbecue somewhere in Middle America. Directed by Summer L. Williams (Bootycandy), its cast of ten comprises two separate groups, one of black actors and one of white actors, and that's about all one knows until just before intermission. For the record, the actors involved are Ramona Lisa Alexander, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Jackie Davis, James R. Milord, and Jasmine Rush; and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Bryan T. Donovan, Adrianne Krstansky, Deb Martin, and Christine Power. It may be discretely revealed that the clan consists of Lillie Anne, James T., Marie, Adlean, and their sister Barbara, nicknamed Zippity Boom, for whom they want to plan an intervention with some straight talk about her substance abuse. In order to preserve some real surprises, programs are not handed out until after the first act, so that's about all one should say about the cast and whom each actor plays.
Though the subject is serious, in the first act there's brilliantly funny spot-on skewering of these equal-opportunity stereotypes who all approach the hot dog barbecue with relish.
Then comes the second act, quite serious for the most part, though given a comic edge. Suffice it to say that the playwright still has a couple of tricks up his sleeve.
|Christine Power, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Deb Martin, Bryan T. Donovan |
& Adrianne Krstanksy in "Barbecue"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)
It's frustrating not to be able to single out a character or the actor who creates her or him, but no matter, as the whole cast is wonderful. (All right, one has to mention the diva named Barbara, hysterically funny in her channeling of an otherwise-spelled “Barbra” portrayed last season by Phil Taylor in Buyer and Seller; and one would also have to mention the final scene when Krstansky's mute terror is on display). Thus one could imply that Williams directs with a very keen touch, and so she does. The rest of the creative team was up to Lyric's standard as well, with ingenious Costume Design by Tyler Kinney, apt Scenic Design by Jessica Pizzuti, realistic Sound Design by David Wilson and crucial Lighting Design by Jen Rock (who, with the playwright, creates arguably the best final-line blackout, literally, in theater history).
O'Hara has stated that his goal is not how many people he can make comfortable, but the opposite, by creating a communal experience where we are all part of the conversation. How he does this and how well he succeeds, well, you'll have to see for yourself. It's not for every theatergoer, and could profit from a nip and tuck here or there in some lengthy segments, but at the end of the day, or the end of the play at least, what we've witnessed is writing at its cleverest and wisest, a dazzling display of imaginative, inspired lunacy.
Pass the mustard.