Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Barbecue ****

Robert O’Hara’s raunchy and raucous new play at the Public Theater is full of surprises. It’s a challenge to describe the play in any detail without giving something away and spoiling the fun. Suffice to say that in the first act an extremely dysfunctional family lures their crack-addicted sister to a barbecue in her favorite park so they can perform an intervention. All is not what it seems. In the second act we move backward and forward in time to discover what preceded and followed the action of the first act. I wish I could be more specific, but to tell more might ruin your experience. The playwright skewers several cliches and pop cultural icons along the way. The talented cast of ten (Becky Ann Baker, Marc Damon Johnson, Arden Myrin, Paul Niebanck, Tamberla Perry, Constance Shulman, Heather Alicia Simms, Samantha Soule, Benja Kay Thomas and Kim Wayans) attack their roles with gusto (Perry, in particular). Clint Ramos’s set captures the feel of a picnic pavilion in a verdant park. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are delightful. O'Hara's inventiveness does not flag. Happily, he chose not to direct his own work this time (his direction of “Bootycandy” did it no favors.) Kent Cash handles the assignment admirably. While the satire is far from subtle, the play is so entertaining that I didn’t mind the heavy-handedness. The audience was demonstratively enthusiastic. It's not for everyone, especially those with an aversion to profanity and vulgarity. Running time: one hour 50 minutes including intermission.

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