At first brush, or rather, the first belly laughs, you might think the dialogue for Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue was lifted from a Jerry Springer Show re-run.
Strawdog Theatre Company Assembles Usual Standout Acting Talents
Ever-brilliant actor John Henry Roberts as the family’s brother, James T, first invites us into his dysfunctional family’s world with his opening monologue, or rather, his one side rant in the first of many of the day’s sibling battles with his elder sister Lillie-Anne, played by Barbara Figgins. He thinks trying to do an intervention with their drug-crazed sister Barbara (Abby Pierce) is a total waste of time. But that’s why these two and their other sisters, Marie (Anita Deely) and Adlean (Kristin Collins), are gathering with them in the park. A feigned barbecue is a pretense for Lillie-Anne’s planned intervention that will whisk the troubled younger sister to a rehab place in far away Alaska. Middle fingers fly, curses abound, and if there is even an iota of function in this family it is M.I.A.
This writer was probably not the only one thinking these were quite the specimens of what would be unkindly called “White Trash”.
Then-- that all changes in a blink, or rather, a quick lights out. There is that very family in the park and on the verge of an intervention except now African-American. A relatively subdued Brother James T is now Black actor Terence Sims, Deanna-Reed Foster gives us a Black Lillie-Anne as domineering as her white doppelganger, Adlean is Kamille Dawkins, and Celeste M. Cooper is the Black Marie who is on a continuous wide-eyed with blue eye shadow rap about everything from getting cancer from tin cans to who was where when.
At this point, you too may be thinking that’s the whole point of the play. We get to glimpse our own racial reflexes by noting our reactions to this simple flip of the switch. Think again! It may be the intermission, but actually, the real story hasn’t even begun.
This is one of those stage delights with so many twists and turns that you don’t have a chance of getting it, or at least your last laugh, ‘til the very last scene. You won’t find spoilers on this page!
Hint: You may think that when you meet the Black Barbara (Ginneh Thomas) in Act 2 you are having your Aha! moment. Sit back and enjoy – it’s good to the last drop.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: an excerpt of this appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Thru September 30
Fridays – 8:00 pm
Saturdays – 3:30 pm and 8:00 pm
Sundays - 3:30 pm
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 1700 Theatre
1700 North Halsted
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.