REVIEW: Market Theatre Roasts Race, Family in Unsettling ‘Barbecue’

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Barbecue at The Market Theatre Company – Photo by Escobar Photography, LLC

Of the four fantastic plays I saw this weekend across the Upstate (Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson and Tryon), Barbecue at the Market Theatre is the one that lingered with me, just as that barbecue bowl I indulged in at intermission lingered lovingly on my pallet on the ride home.

Yes, just as the cast of the controversial Oklahoma! Revival served chili and cornbread at intermission, The Market has partnered with a barbecue (pulled pork, chicken or sausage) vendor to immerse the audience into the moment.

The best way to experience Barbecue is cold and without any knowledge of the play, because openly-gay African-American playwright Robert O’Hara twists, turns and shreds your perceptions with every scene, leaving you aghast, scratching your head, and finally uttering in your interior monologue: WTH?

The play is set at a public park (picnic bench, grill, decorations, etc.) as four O’Mallery siblings stage a surprise intervention on their unsuspecting sister, Barbara, who is a drug addict. We soon learn each of the siblings has their own issues.

The catch is the play is performed by two casts: one white and one black, which changes our perception of the story, but we realize addiction, family dynamics, alcoholism, etc. are prevalent in all families, regardless of race.

Then, act two arrives and O’Hara tosses out everything including the kitchen sink and grill.

Race does come into play as tropes, opportunities, truths, lies, deception, and the media are laid out with all the fixings of provocation.

DeBryant Johnson directs this contemplative piece at a brisk pace and makes the most of this challenging space to stage.

The enterprising and impeccable cast includes: Antoinette Hall (SETC Best Actress Winner for Every Brilliant Thing) and Andrea Seemuller as ringleader Lillie Ann; Regina Wells and Courtney Dorn as Barbara (aka Zippity Boom) the addict; Beonka Edwards and Libby Pennington as Marie the Jack Daniels fan with; Cidney Foster and Kelly Neal as Adlean; and Jaden Jones and Ben Otto-Sunderman as the brother James T.

One note: this version has been toned down slightly (language, etc.) from the original play with permission from the author’s licensing agent.

Creative personnel on Barbecue are Noah Taylor (scenic and lighting design); Dalton Cole as technical director, Alex Bennett as stage manager, Sarah “Bear” Alvarez as propmaster; Mimi Massey as assistant stage manager; Hall as costumer; Drew Kenyon as assistant TD; and Seemuller as floral designer.

Hats off to The Market for their bold and diverse programming choices like Barbecue and Rent this season.

Barbecue continues through Monday, May 16 at The Market Theatre, 110 Federal St. in Anderson. For tickets, visit markettheatre.org.

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