Barbeque, written by Robert O’Hara and directed by Malika Oyetimein, is a breath of fresh air in a city which so desperately tries to prove how progressive it is. It’s a hilarious and honest performance that will leave you fucked up just like your family did. The writing, acting, and directing choices combine to create a moving and hilarious story of family, power, and addiction. Set at a barbecue/intervention, O’Hara beautifully presents us with the themes of family, addiction, race, and queer identity wrapped up in one hilarious play.
Barbecue is running at the Langston Hughes Theatre in the Central District as part of the 2017 Intiman Theatre Festival. The set and music immediately evoked a sense of summertime and grilled meats. Family gathering classics such as Earth Wind and Fire played as we took our seats. The set looked as if it could be a park in anyone’s home town, like a real park just sprouted up in the middle of the theatre. The authenticity of the set created a tone of everyday life, that would soon be reflected and challenged by the characters and their relationships.
Oyetimein, is a recent graduate from the University of Washington MFA program, is directing her second play written by O’Hara. She first directed his play Bootycandy for the Intiman Theatre Festival, an equally hilarious piece that deals with queerness in the black community. Although humble post performance, Oyetimein has achieved what many Theatre ensembles have attempted to cultivate in the scene. She has given us a play that is humorous and yet unafraid to challenge stereotypes whether it’s race, addiction, or sexuality.
The play opens with James T., the only brother in the family, tasked with securing the park for the intervention. The characters slowly trickle in as they arrive for the party and their varying shades of dysfunction and drug abuse quickly become evident. Audience members were left confused, not sure whether to laugh or feel empathy, as the brother and sisters candidly insult and bring each other’s vices to light. At one point Adlean, the alcoholic crackhead, states that she is only a recreational crack user. Dealing with topics such as addiction and family dysfunction can be triggering, however O’Hara’s use of satire and comedy lighten the emotional roller coaster of the intervention.
Before the close of the first act, Barbara, the youngest sister recipient of the intervention, finally arrives at the barbecue. Without a doubt, Barbara, played by Kamaria Hallums-Harris, stole the show. Not only is Hallums-Harris a captivating actress, but she is goddamn funny on stage.
Barbara’s arrival only intensifies the discord and lack of clarity in the intervention, which can only be expected. Have you heard the saying the blind leading the blind? Well there should be another one about alcoholics leading crackheads to rehab because that is what this family is doing. As layers are continually added to the relationships of the siblings, one cannot help but feel an intense empathy towards them. O’Hara has managed to create something so funny, relatable, honest, and painful I found myself torn between emotions, tears streaming down my face while at the same time laughter boomed from my mouth.
No amount of words can describe the wild ride that is Barbecue. O’Hara has written a play that will haunt you even after leaving the theater. Oyetimein’s direction pushes boundaries and challenges our perceptions. We can only hope that we continue to see work from both of these wonderful artist. Barbecue deals with painful, triggering topics but if you are able to suppress your own family issues for a night, this is the play to see.