Review

Review: Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue, Newly Cooked Up for Our Virtual World

Robert O’Hara’s funny, snarky familyish drama Barbecue was staged by Strawdog Theatre in 2017 in Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. It’s set in a public park where four siblings, led by one determined sister, meet to have an intervention with their sister to persuade her to go into drug rehab 3000 miles away in Alaska. O’Hara adds casting and racial twists to this story that astonish you on first viewing.

This week Barbecue came out virtually in a production directed by O’Hara and presented by Spotlight on Plays, a series of livestream readings of Broadway plays to benefit the Actors Fund. The snappy and smart reading features a cast including Laurie Metcalf and S. Epatha Merkerson playing the aforementioned determined sister, Lillie Anne; plus Colman Domingo, Tamberla Perry, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Heather Simms, Carrie Coon, David Morse, Kristine Nielsen and Annie McNamara.

What starts out as an intervention turns into something much more as O’Hara roasts pop culture, memoir writing, Hollywood casting and family dynamics. Playwright O’Hara has been quoted as saying he’s seen enough TV shows about “white people doing shit.” Barbecue is about both black and white people doing shit, he said to an interviewer in an article in the 2017 playbill. The final scene takes place at the Academy Awards; that’s more in the way of spoilers than I would normally acknowledge in a review.

The superb performances and direction make this virtual version of Barbecue a solid viewing choice for this weekend. However, remembering my reaction to the original staged version (and rereading my review), I think this play in particular loses a good deal in its virtual translation. The staged version, with the two “families” preparing a party in a park, is much more animated and energetic. Also the twisty/turny plot works more effectively in full staging. As a proponent of virtual theater, I’m a little sorry to report this. It also may be that the original Barbecue was so memorable, visually and aurally, that I wasn’t able to get it out of my mind.

Spotlight on Plays’ Barbecue is available to view through 7pm Monday, December 14. Running time is about 100 minutes with a brief break. Tickets are $5 minimum and you can pay more to benefit the Actors Fund. You’ll receive info about viewing after buying your ticket. You can also check out coming Spotlight on Plays’ productions, which typically premier at 7pm Central Time on Thursdays and run through 7pm Central the following Monday. You can view at any time during that period.

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