Monday, February 27, 2017

Well done Barbecue lights up Cleveland Public Theatre

Addiction, whether it's alcohol, drugs, sex, racism, obsessive compulsion or eating, is no funny matter. That is unless it's in a play written by playwright Robert O'Hara.

Robert O'Hara, a native of Cincinnati, is a master at writing comedic and satirical scenes and lines, often in relationship to what it means to be a black gay man in America. He probes into identity, social injustice, and attempts by blacks to live the American dream.

The winner of the Oppenheimer Award for best New American Play (Insurrection: Holding History), Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play (Antebellum) and Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Drama (Bootycandy), his works are often met with very strong positive or negative reactions as he does not shrink away from bold and daring themes and language.

Barbecue centers around a severely dysfunctional family in which every member has one or more addictions. Even the "healthy" member of the family is afflicted.

The family has come together in sister Barbara's favorite haunt, a picnic area in a secluded park, to stage an emergency intervention. Barbara is drug addicted, and raises money for her habit through various nefarious means.

The question, of course, is why, in this family of "sickies," is Barbara being picked out to be "saved?"
To complicate the matter, there is not only one family, but two of them! One white, one black.
Of course bickering, spilling family secrets, accusations, bitching, and backwoods and Ebonic colloquialisms flow forth as chaos reigns. The dialogue is filled with both funny and pathetic phrases. The characters are extremes, but that's a requirement for a farcical examination of addiction, gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

For the sake of those who go to see the show, that's the end of spoiler alerts, other than to say surprise after surprise, including an Oscars Awards ceremony take place and a best-selling book is written.
Cleveland Public Theatre's serving of the play is well paced and nicely developed by director Beth Wood who again proves she has a way of getting high comedy from all sorts of scripts.

The actors cavort in a realistic fenced in park setting, complete with grass, hills, a barbeque, benches, street light and a symbolic gnarled dead tree, creatively designed by Ryan Patterson. Benjamin Gantose's lighting nicely illuminates the goings one.

The play zings right along, teeter-tottering between ridiculous and asking "who are these people and what are their stories?" O'Hara challenges each of us to probe what makes and affirms identities. He challenges us to consider what is truth and what is fantasy.

The cast is strong. Examining each of them would reveal some of the creativity of O'Hara's creative plot devices. It will have to suffice that there are some standout performances, but all the characters are well etched. Congrats to Jill Levin, Teresa DeBerry, Ray McNiece, MaryAnn Elder, Sally Groth, Katrice Monee Headd, Tonya Broach, Scott A. Campbell, Pamela Morton and Ashley Aquilla.

Capsule judgement: Barbecue is the type of script that some will love, others abhor. It is farce, which means broad, overplayed written and portrayed characters, which again, will turn some on, others off. I found the evening funny, thought provoking, creative and effective, while recognizing its use of writing gimmicks and overly broad characterizations. It's worth the time to see this show!!!

(Side comment: While in the Gordon Square arts district, explore the exploding restaurant and other venues which surround CPT.)

Barbecue runs through March 11, 2017 at Cleveland Public Theatre. For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to