Trailer trash knows no color in the sordid lives brought to booze-chugging, drug-snorting, profanity-spewing life in Barbecue, Robert O’Hara’s outrageously twisted, hysterically funny new comedy now making its West Coast debut at the Geffen Playhouse, and that’s just Act One.
A bit of pre-show program perusal suggests that something out of the ordinary is about to happen; every one of Barbecue’s characters would appear to be cast not once but twice! A glance at actor bios then reveals even more startling info. There’s a black Lillie Anne and a white Lillie Anne, a white James T and a black James T, and so on and so forth all the way down the list.
Scene One, at least, is as poor white trashy as poor white trash gets, with adult siblings Lillie Anne (Frances Fisher), James T (Travis Johns), Adlean (Dale Dickey), and Marie (Elyse Mirto) making plans to stage a public park intervention to put an end to oldest sister Barbara’s “crack habit, alcohol problem, and mental illness,” though it would seem to be a case of four pots calling one kettle black (figuratively speaking of course) since there’s seemingly not a one of them who’s not high on something or other as they talk, toss down, and toke.
The intervention still hasn’t started, heck, Barbara aka “Zippety Boom,” hasn’t even shown up when following Barbecue’s first blackout (no pun intended), lights come back up and (spoiler alert coming up, so if you want to be completely suprised, read no further. Just go see Barbecue and savor the meal.)
Lo and behold, sisters and brother have changed color (though not clothes), with Yvette Cason’s Lillie Anne, Omar J. Dorsey’s James T, Kimberly Hébert Gregory’s Adlean, and Heather Alicia Simms’ Marie starting right back up where we left off.
Dialog doesn’t get any fouler or funnier than the four-letter words erupting from both cast’s lips, and when Barbara at last makes her entrance (whether as Rebecca Wisocky, white, or Cherise Boothe, black), things get even wilder.
Then comes the whopper of a whammy that ends Act One, and you’ll be counting the minutes still intermission ends and you can see what new surprises playwright O’Hara has up his sneaky sleeve. (Hint: There are a bundle of them!)
Suffice it to say that by the time Barbecue has reached its absolutely sublime grand finale, not only will whatever questions you may have had during its first act be answered, you’ll be wishing you had the time on your calendar to see the whole sensational shebang again with brand-new knowing eyes.
Under Colman Domingo’s inspired direction, Cason, Dickey, Dorsey, Fisher, Gregory, Johns, Mirto, and Simms give more than eight of the most scrumptious performances you’ll be seeing this fall.
As for Boothe and Wisocky, barely seen and never heard in Act One, the fabulous duo end up stealing the show, and then some, once we’re back for Act Two. (I’m dying to write more about Boothe’s star turn in particular, emphasis on star, but that would be giving too much away. Trust me. She’s brilliant.)
Barbecue unfolds at the Geffen on Sibyl Wickersheimer’s terrifically grungy public park set. Costume designer Kara Harmon earns double points for creating matching pairs of outfits that tell us from first glance who these folk are, and for some splendid Act Two revelations. Lap Chi Chu’s accomplished lighting design and Lindsay Jones’s surprise-enhancing music and sound design are equally top-notch.
Anne L. Hitt is production stage manager. Cate Cundiff is assistant stage manager. Rhonda Kohl is assistant director.
Casting is by Phyllis Schuringa, CSA. Amir Abdullah, Kevin T. McCarthy, Mirto, Elisa Perry, Danielle Pinnock, and Lisa Rothschiller are understudies.
Certain to be one of this fall’s most buzzed-about productions, Barbecue may not be Noël Coward (actually, it’s about as far from Private Lives as a show can get), but hot diggety dog if it isn’t the tastiest feast in town.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.
September 15, 2016
Photos: Jeff Lorch Photography