BWW Review: BARBECUE: A Dysfunctional Family Roast


Written by Robert O'Hara, Directed by Summer L. Williams; Scenic Design, Jessica Pizzuti; Costume Design, Tyler Kinney; Lighting Design, Jen Rock; Sound Design, David Wilson; Dialect Coach, Paul D'Agostino; Hair & Makeup Designer, Amber Voner; Production Stage Manager, Becca Freifeld; Assistant Stage Manager, Diane McLean

CAST: Ramona Lisa Alexander, Sarah ElizaBeth Bedard, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Bryan T. Donovan, Jackie Davis, Adrianne Krstansky, Deb Martin, James R. Milord, Christine Power, Jasmine Rush

Performances through May 7 at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or

Barbecue is a play about which one cannot say too much without ruining its considerable effect. Here's the minimalist FYI, things you need to know but that won't give anything away. It is written by Robert O'Hara, directed by Summer L. Williams, and features an ensemble cast of ten actors who all give Great Performances and disappear into their richly drawn characters. Taking place on a raised pavilion in a pastoral park, the lovely setting belies the serious nature of the subjects (substance abuse, family dysfunction, race) that Barbecue serves up on a platter. And one more thing - it's a comedy.

In the first act, four of the five O'Mallery siblings (three sisters and a brother) gather for a picnic with the express purpose of conducting an intervention with their sister Barbara, a raging drug addict. Three of the four intervening sibs have their own substance issues, but they stop short of calling what they do "abuse," especially as compared to Barbara's behavior. Their how-to guide for what they are about to undertake is one of those reality-type television shows, so what could go wrong? As one scene ends and another begins, they are separated by a brief blackout (an appropriate metaphor?) to allow the stage to be reset. You never know quite what to expect when the lights come back up and there are a couple of stunning plot twists. As a matter of fact, the programs are withheld from the audience until intermission to protect the secret.

Act two feels like a different play with darker comedy and higher stakes. Ramona Lisa Alexander and Deb Martin shoulder much of the storyline and show incredible range as their characters go toe-to-toe (mouth-to-mouth?) in a verbal battle of wills. Following the unexpected developments in their elongated scene, there is a denouement which establishes a connection with the characters and storyline of act one. While it may feel a little confusing at times, my advice is to go with the flow and wait for it all to shake out. O'Hara's writing is really good at keeping you on your toes, and Williams "gets" him (having previously directed his Bootycandy at SpeakEasy Stage Company last year) and is able to keep things on track.

The Lyric Stage Company production features scenic design by Jessica Pizzuti (watch for the great conversion of the set late in the second act), Tyler Kinney's costumes that help define the characters, lighting design by Jen Rock, and sound design by David Wilson. Paul D'Agostino (dialect coach) and Amber Voner (hair & makeup design) add a lot of local flavor to the barbecue sauce. However, the greatest credit goes to the women and men of the O'Mallery family: Sarah ElizaBeth Bedard, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Bryan T. Donovan, Jackie Davis, Adrianne Krstansky, James R. Milord, Christine Power, and Jasmine Rush. Many of them are returning to the Lyric Stage, and most of them are regulars on Boston stages, but it is unlikely that you have seen them as they appear here before. You'll probably feel better about your own family after you've been to Barbecue.

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard (Jackie Davis, James R. Milord, Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Jasmine Rush, Ramona Lisa Alexander)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman