Review: ‘Barbecue’ at SF Playhouse (****1/2)

by Charles Kruger

Cast and crew of the Bay area preview of Robert O’Hara’s “Barbeecue” at SF Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The title of this play obviously refers to its feature event—a family barbecue held for the purpose if performing an intervention for an alcoholic/addict—but also the way in which it “barbecues” our prejudices and preconceptions regarding race, poverty, addicition, recovery, pop culture, and more. It is a conflagration. And it is very smart and very, very funny.

Much of its effect comes from a series of unexpected plot twists and complications, each of which adds layers of satire to an already satirical piece achieving the very definition of “meta.”

The first (of many) complications is one that I think I can share without being too much of a spoiler: the story is told by two casts—one Black and one White. They play the same named characters, but each scene alternates between Black and White. This allows the playwright to play fast and loose with many stereotypes about poverty, drugs, race, family and more. Rarely has race-based humor been this funny (think of “Blazing Saddles” if you want to know what I mean). It is outrageous.

For most of the play, though, race is never discussed or even referenced. The focus is on telling the story and any racial implications are slipped under the radar by the use of the two casts. It is very disconcerting, funny, and puzzling and hugely entertaining.

It is only in the latter part of the play that race becomes a topic and when it does the effect is revelation exploding everything we thought we understood about the play.

The whole thing walks an intellectual, dramatic, and political tightrope without ever faltering.

I can’t say more without saying too much. But, believe me, the standing ovations and riotous laughter from the audience are well-earned.

All of the cast give outstanding performances, but Margo Hall (as usual) dazzles both as director and actress.

This “Barbecue” will stick to your ribs.

“Barbecue” plays at SF Playhouse though November 11, 2017.  For further information, click here.


Rating:  ****1/2 (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)


“Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara. Produced by SF Playhouse. Director: Margo Hall. Scenic Designer: Bill English. Costume Designer: Brooke Jennings. Sound Designer: Cliff Caruthers. Lighting Designer: Wen-Ling Liao. Properties Designer: Jacquelyn Scott. Stage Manager: Angela Knutson. 


James T. : Clive Worsley. Lillie Anne: Anne Darragh. Marie: Teri Whipple. Adlean: Jennie Brick. James T.: Adrian Roberts. Lillie Anne: Halili Knox. Adlean: Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. Marie: Kehinde Kayejo. Barbara: Susi Damilano. Barbara :Margo Hall.

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