Not your average Dr. Phil intervention
I must admit that when I first heard about Intiman’s new show Barbecue, by Robert O’Hara, about two families, one black, one white, having family interventions for drug-addicted sisters, written by guy with an Irish last name, I cringed. HELP !!!!
The only help I needed was help to stop laughing and occasionally crying, so that the actors on stage could get on with the play. Yes it was a)that funny b)that sad and c)that uplifting. Since nothing can top the eloquence of the director, I will just quote her because it pretty much sums up what I took away from the play: “People tend to embrace the things that make us different rather than the complexities that make us all human beings. We want to turn that idea on its head with this story.” And did it ever!!!!! Without ever sounding serious or pompous, the script itself was outrageously witty and the delivery was wittily outrageous.
Starting with an intriguing dramatic structure, which got derailed after the first act, the play takes place in an urban public park in what appears to be Oklahoma or Texas, judging by the oil-well in the background. As the play opens, a highly dysfunction white family of three sisters and a brother, socially situated on the cusps of the working class and the lumpen-proletariat, are setting up for some sort of family reunion in a public park.
However, it is in fact a surprise intervention for the most obviously drug-addicted member, who is about to arrive. My notes from this scene said “this is a family not even Dr. Phil could help” and “a bit caricatured” In spite of the caricatured over-the-top dysfunction, the dialogue was incredibly funny, with sooo many memorable one liners, all written in perfect red-neck dialect.
As the play progressed, the white and black families, with different casts, alternated the scenes chronologically, the dialogue was different, one using Black urban dialect, the other Red-neck, but the supposedly different families (of the same social class) followed the same story-line. The sheer linguistic gymnastics of the dialogue deserves the Olympic gold-medal for originality; the casts were more than capable of the requisite split second timing necessary to deliver the intricate verbal maneuvers.
However, just when we thought we could not laugh any more, the play gets even more amusing because mid-way through the play, there is an strange plot twist, as the author takes the mickey out of the current state, not of race relations itself, but of the endless “commentary” about race relations. Hollywood, drug recovery programs, as well as tell-all-memoires are also fair game for his relentless insights.
Director Malika Oyetimein deserves high praise for bringing everything together in this production. Robert O’Hara, the playwright, who I discovered is not Irish Catholic but African American, also deserves every prize imaginable for the creativity of the structure and dialogue of this highly entertaining intelligent play.
Utilizing the high ceilings and sense of open space in the theatre of the LHPAI, the set by Julia Hayes Welch was perfection itself. Every detail of a public park was there, the barbecue, the trash bin, pic-nic tables, swing set and the fake grass. The entire cast was stellar; particular stand-outs were Lamar Legend, the brother in the black family, Shaunyce Omar as Lillie Anne, the black bossy presumably eldest sister in the black family and both Barbaras: Kamaria Harris in the black family and Eryn Joslyn in the white family, as the drug addicted sisters.
Costuming by Kelly McDonald was truly inspired and added so much to our understanding of the play and ultimately to accepting the strange reality of the plot twist. Just seeing how the people were dressed caused about ten minutes of sustained laughter.
I recommend this play for everyone, we live in troubled times, there is no more effective medium than humor for disseminating the truth, and relieving us of the burden of that disturbing truth.
Also, the facility is lovely, the theatre is inside a former Jewish synagogue, (designated as a Seattle Historic Landmark, now part of Seattle Parks and Recreation) Attached to the lobby of the theater itself is a balcony with good views for the intermissions. Blessedly there is a parking lot, and plenty of off-street free parking. Also driving there is easy as there is very little traffic in that part of town.
Just to make my own political dig: It might be good chance to catch a glimpse of the beautiful but disappearing architecture of the Central District before it “develops” into Leggoland.
Barbecue Intiman Theatre at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI) 104-17th Ave S. (17th and Yesler) Wed-Sat 7:30 pm. Sun 2:00 pm. N.B. Fri June 16 ASL Performance. Thru June 25th.