Comedy is always hard but when that same play is also provocative and challenges audiences, that is even tougher. Cincinnati-born Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue, currently receiving a stunningly directed and acted production at the Human Race Theatre, is the kind of American play destined to be a classic – a remnant of this particular time in American culture that will resonate for years to come.
The Plot of Barbecue
O’Hara’s (2020 Tony nominee for Best Direction of a play for the critically-acclaimed Slave Play) latest offering follows the O’Mallery siblings who have planned a faux barbecue picnic for their youngest sister, Barbara, all the while secretly planning to stage an intervention to confront her drug and alcohol use. We soon learn that each sibling needs their own intervention. But wait – O’Hara has so much more in store. When the lights return, “so do the four siblings: same park, same situation, same personalities, different actors!” That twist alone is worth the ticket price and under the perfectly-paced guiding hand of Houston-based director Eboni Bell Darcy (making her debut at the Loft), the complications between both sets of actors begin to intertwine in truly ingenious ways.
There is no preparing you for the end of Act One and the entirety of Act Two; and doing so would be a tremendous spoiler. Just know this – the second act is not the play you thought you were watching, and the surprise is remarkable. The show, however, has much more to say than what’s on the surface initially. Family is family and we all have our skeletons – sure – but O’Hara makes grand use of cultural touchstones as well – namely the crossroads of race and art-making in American popular culture. If that seems vague, well it is intended to be. It is challenging to review this show without giving away the wonderful twists.
The cast is remarkable at every turn – a true ensemble show. The meta nature of the piece makes for constant audience engagement. The 10-person cast comprised of returning and first-time artists includes A.J. Baldwin and Mierka Girten (Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help) as Marie, Burgess Byrd (Gloria: A Life) and Darlene Spencer (Around the World in 80 Days) as Lillie Anne, Rico Parker and Josh Aaron McCabe (Deadline) as James T, Marva M.B. Williams-Parker (Gem of the Ocean) and Lisa Stephen Friday as Adlean, and Oluchi Nwokocha and Erin Eva Butcher as Barbara.
Tamara L. Honesty’s unit set is strangely both epic and intimate which seems appropriate to the central themes that permeate the piece. Additional design elements by L’Amour Ameer (costume), John Rensel (lighting), Antonio Lopez (sound), and Mark Tynan and Rachel Heine (Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager, respectively) work seamlessly in service of Darcy’s vision.
And what a vision it is! Darcy and playwright O’Hara seem to be so expertly working in tandem, it’s as if we are watching the play create itself before our very eyes. It has been a long time since a script has surprised me the way Barbecue does – and this collection of artists at The Loft carry it in a way that makes you long for repeated viewings.
Tickets to Barbecue
Tickets and performance information forBarbecueare available at DaytonLive.org. Performances continue through April 30 at The Loft Theatre in Dayton.