Barbecue is Smokin’ Hot at the Geffen Playhouse

Remember James Frey’s mega selling book, A Million Little Pieces? I read it in 2003, before Oprah discovered and picked it for her Oprah’s Book Club. The book shot up to the top of the New York Times best seller list, until Oprah discovered it was not a completely factual memoir. She slammed Frey for betraying millions of readers.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein


Frey didn’t betray me with his a brilliant imagination, and Obie and Helen Hayes Award winner Robert O’Hara doesn’t betray you in his West Coast debut of Barbecue, now playing at the Geffen Playhouse.

Sitting in my aisle seat, I tapped my foot to the beat of the British rock band Sweet’s one-hit-wonder song, Ballroom Blitz. Released in 1975, its lively tempo sets the tone for this ruckus, fun humorous theatrical production.

As the lights go to black, the voice of O’Hara welcomes everyone in a whimsical “God” manner to turn cell phones off. His delivery is deliciously playful, just like the production.

Set designer Sibyl Wichershelmer creates a park environment with picnic tables, a cooler filled with beer, a yellow slide, trash can, and tree and shrubs growing along a chain link fence. She even has bug zappers along the beams of a wooden overhang. On stage left, in the corner of the stage, is a black barbecue.

Be prepared to laugh out loud as you meet the James T, played by Travis Johns, as he clues us in about his “ain’t a normal, god damn family.” He looks as if he “smells like a discount liquor store” while navigating the stage with a can of Budweiser.

Composer and Sound Designer Lindsay Jones is brilliant with sounds of cars pulling up to the park, car doors opening and shutting with different intensity, based on the characters mood and intoxication levels.

Get an aisle seat if you can, because Director Coleman Domingo gives his cast freedom to cavort throughout the lower part of the theater, offering an interactive romp of events.

O’Hara whips up some side-splitting lines that include, “Do these shorts make me look fat?” with James T replying, “No your fat, makes you look fat.” This is a cast of characters were two sisters are proud that they have their GED, more education than the others.

Costume Designer Kara Harmon dresses the talented actress Frances Farmer and Yvette Cason, playing Lillian Anne in bright colors with bright blue sandals. My favorite outfit was the blonde Marie, dressed in animal print, lace up Roman sandals and braided hair with pink cords interwoven throughout, looking like the character Harley Quinn in the movie Suicide Squad. Marie is played skillfully by Elyse Mirto, as she saunters from the back of the theatre to the stage with a large bottle of Jack Daniels, climbs up picnic tables and reveals her vices.

Dale Dickey is believable as the lovable, cancer stricken, pill popping Adlean.

The first act is a peek into dysfunctional siblings with drug and alcohol issue. Their love is strong enough to have an intervention for their out of control sister Barbara, a.k.a. Zippity Boom. Since a barbecue is Zippity’s favorite type of party, they invite her to meet at a park, yet bring a taser gun and duct tape, just in case things go wrong. Well of course it does, and as the stage goes black, another cast of a different skin color appear. What? Just you wait and see.

Photo courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse.
Photo courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse.

This new cast is as boisterous, of even more than the first. Omar J. Dorsey playing James T commands the stage with his presence. Yvette Cason is hysterical as the only somewhat sane family member, Lillie Anne. She leads the pack to look at their own addictions. This strong cast with impeccable timing includes Kimberly Herbert Gregory as Adieu and the frenzied Heather Alicia Simms as Marie.

My eyes couldn’t stop watching the ferocious, mascara smeared, Barbara – Zippity Boom character, played stunningly by Cherise Boothe, as she is duct taped and tied to a post. Her expressive eyes tell us everything going on in her twisted soul.

Just when you think you have the storyline figured out, O’Hara gives you a zinger and then cuts to black for intermission.

Upon returning for Act 2, the stage is set for one year earlier. There are only two actresses onstage Zippiety Boom – Barbara played by Rebecca Wisocky and now Boothe as a golden Beyonce’ character. She is bigger than life and we learn so much more about both character’s live, desires and goals. Thespians will relate to the scene when Boothe assesses the park. It’s hysterical.

The end is a humorous parody of last year’s Academy Awards racism, misogyny and homophobia. It will force you out of your seat to high-five the cast and offer a standing ovation to this accomplished writer, director, cast and crew.

Written by Robert O’Hara and Directed by Colman Domingo. The Cast includes Cherise Boothe, Yvette Cason, Dale Dickey, Omar J. Dorsey, Frances Fisher, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Travis Johns, Elyse Mirto, Heather Alicia Simms, Rebecca Wisocky.

Playing through October 16, 2016. This review was featured in The Stage Review.

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