Regional Reviews: Phoenix
This review will be as spoiler free as possible in order to preserve the many revelations in the plot.
Four siblings have gathered together in a local park for a family barbecue and are waiting for their sister Barbara to arrive, but the get-together isn't exactly what you think it is. The domineering ringleader of the family–sister Lillie Anne–has coordinated this ruse with the help of her brother and two sisters to lure Barbara to meet them for what she thinks is a family get together in her favorite park but it's really an intervention. The four siblings want to convince Barbara, who they claim has a crack and drinking problem, to go to a rehab in Alaska.
While Barbara is the sibling we are told is in need of an intervention, we are quickly made aware that every single member of the family has addiction problems. James T. swigs beers while smoking weed, Marie is believed to be on crack and is practically attached to her Jack Daniels bottle, and Adlean uses her breast cancer as an excuse to continually pop pain pills. Although they all have their issues, it's Barbara we are told also becomes extremely violent when she gets high (they've dubbed her "Zippity Boom" due to how violent she gets), so they want to make sure everything goes as planned.
As the members of this white train wreck of a family coordinate their plans for the intervention and wait for Barbara to arrive, the scene ends and there is a blackout. When the lights come back on every member of the family is now Black. And that's all I can say about the plot without revealing any of O'Hara's surprising turns in the script.
O'Hara's biting script satirizes our views on race, class, addiction and celebrity, and his twists in the plot are smart and intriguing. His dialogue is funny and his characters, while broad, are loud and obnoxious. He also allows us to see that possible preconceived beliefs of drug addiction and family dynamics when it comes to minorities aren't exactly true when we see a white family have the same problems. However, while O'Hara has crafted an fascinating drama, and as good as the revelations are, the ending and some of the second act doesn't seem as fully firm as it could be.
Director Ron May has assembled a crackerjack cast. While they don't appear until the end of the first act, Megan Holcomb and Shonda Royall are both exceptional as Barbara. Their moments in act two are rich in smartly detailed acting choices that create fully fleshed out characters. Ryan L. Jenkins and Katie McFadzen are perfectly controlling as Lillie Anne, and Louis Farber and Michael Thompson are both hilarious as James T. Lydia Corbin and Debra K. Stevens are humorous as the crack-addicted Marie, and Debra Lyman and Dayna Donovan are great as the wise-cracking Adlean. There isn't a weak link in the cast, with each member having perfect comic timing.
Sarah Harris's set design delivers a realistic barbecue gathering spot in a park, and Carol Simmons' costumes, which are identical for both casts, are excellent. The sharp lighting by Stacey Walston allows for a nice shift in the second act to portray another important location in the plot.
While O'Hara crafted what at first could seem to be a confusing play, once you hear the final line of the first act and see how the first scene of the second act plays out, you'll quickly understand what's going on. So, don't let any possible confusion from what I've written keep you away from seeing this great cast in this very smart satire about poverty, race, and social class.
The Black Theatre Troupe production of Barbecue runs through November 6, 2022 at Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 East Washington Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.blacktheatretroupe.org or call 602-258-8129
Directed by Ron May