It’s difficult to write about “Barbecue” without giving too much away. Through unexpected twists and turns, the 2015 dark comedy from playwright Robert O’Hara peels back layers of the modern American experience to expose characters whose lives fall squarely between ignorance and bliss.
In a new laugh-out-loud production by local troupe the Radical Buffoons (through April 6 at the Fortress of Lushington), directors Jon Greene and Torey Hayward helm an enthusiastic ensemble as they drink, smoke and cuss their way through the pitfalls of family and fame as they face hard facts — or just ignore them altogether.
“Barbecue” opens with the O’Mallery family preparing for a family cookout at a public park, a family affair that doubles as an intervention for sister Barbara, nicknamed “Zippity Boom” for her outrageous escapades while under the influence.
In the first scene, the O’Mallerys are portrayed as a white family, but when the lights come up on scene two, the same family is portrayed by a cast of back actors. The effect is a pair of hilariously engaging, energetic ensembles (Chrissy Jacobs, James Yeargain, Natasha Brown and Rebecca Leigh as the white family; Zondra Howard, Wayland Cooper, Naomi Daugherty and Tenaj Jackson as the black family) that send up issues of race and class in their funhouse mirror images.
At the top of Act Two, the duelling Barbaras square off (Natalie Boyd and Mahalia Abeo Tibbs) as the plot unspools and secrets are revealed. This scene is less dynamic than the boisterous first act, but the two actors deliver a taut tangle that keeps the story moving forward until the rest of the cast returns for the show’s final revelations.
The set by Bunny Lushington effectively transforms the small downtown black box theater with little more than some Astroturf, chain link fence and a picnic table. Costumes by Aya Designs are pitch perfect, contributing to the characterizations of the cast.
“Barbecue” establishes O’Hara as a unique voice among contemporary American playwrights, willing to have fun and upend conventions, and the Radical Buffoons prove more than capable of handling the challenge.
WHEN: through April 6
WHERE: Fortress of Lushington, 2215 Burgundy Street