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BWW Review: Robert O'Hara's BARBECUE Hilarious, Surprising and Insightful Satire


Robert O'Hara's hilarious, surprising and ultimately insightful satire, Barbecue, is one of those plays where the press representatives ask the critics not to completely reveal the way story unfolds, keeping plot twists fresh for audiences to experience first-hand. Heck, the ushers don't even give you Playbills until intermission because some of the most basic production information contains spoilers.

Heather Alicia Simms, Benja Kay Thomas, Kim Wayans
and Marc Damon Johnson (Photo: Joan Marcus)

What can be told is that the entire play is set in a public park in a section containing picnic tables and barbecue grills. The first act alternates scenes between two groups of people enjoying the facilities. One group is black (Marc Damon Johnson, Kim Wayans, Heather Alicia Simms, and Benja Kay Thomas), the other is white (Paul Niebanck, Becky Ann Baker, Arden Myrin, Constance Shulman and Samantha Soule) and both are rowdy, outspoken and seemingly so dysfunctional that they function just fine.

At first it seems like O'Hara's main purpose is to get laughs out of comparing the behavior of the black group and the white group, and he certainly gets a lot of mileage there, but while much of the humor is based on broad stereotypes, it's never mean-spirited as the characters do care about each other and director Kent Gash's excellent company maintains a consistent level of truth.

Becky Ann Baker, Samantha Soule, Constance Shulman
and Arden Myrin (Photo:Joan Marcus)

Initially the plot involves an intervention for a woman nicknamed Zippity Boom ("When she taste liquor. She go Zippity. Boom!"), but several of the others have their own addictions. (One defends her pill popping because, "I gat cancer in my titty.") Interest picks up considerably when the playwright introduces the theme of how pop culture can alter our perception of reality and how often enough, the public prefers a familiar reality created by the media over what is the indisputable truth.

As with his Obie-winning BOOTYCANDY, O'Hara playfully manipulates the audience and does it so cleverly that the experience becomes an exhilarating joyride.

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