San Francisco Playhouse directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, do seem to have a remarkable ability to search out – or attract – some interesting and unusual productions. The latest one to open at the Playhouse is the West Coast premiere of Barbecue, the highly entertaining comedy written by multi-award winner Robert O’Hara, and directed by Margo Hall – who also plays one of the characters in the show.
Barbecue deals with two seriously dysfunctional and foul-mouthed families – one white, one black – who appear to be living in a parallel existence. The play opens with four siblings of the white family preparing to hold a barbecue in the park ‘in honor’ of their sister who has fallen off the rails. They hatch a plan which they hope will persuade her to go to rehab to cure herself of her various undesirable dependencies.
The black siblings – who have the same names as their counterparts, and who are even identically dressed – are hatching a similar plan, in the same park, for their sister, who has also fallen from grace, and for the same reasons as the white sister.
Confusing? Well, initially, yes. Humorous? Absolutely – even if at first you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. The audience hooted with laughter, enjoying every minute of the domestic train-smash unfolding before their eyes. But stay with these families – for when the light bulb moment comes at the beginning of Act II – everything suddenly falls into place, and you find yourself immersed in the twists and turns that emerge from a very clever plot.
You can always rely on the Playhouse directors to bring out the best in their performers, and Margo Hall has done a brilliant job. The cast members of Barbecue are (almost all) as vulgar, loud-mouthed and lacking in self-restraint as their characters demand, and those that aren’t, still give their characters the oomph they need to counteract the cringe-worthy behavior of the other members of their respective families.
The set, as always, is wonderfully realistic, down to the last detail – like the pieces of litter lying around the park, and the rust stains on the walls of the public bathrooms – trivial, but vital for authentic scene-setting. Plaudits, once again, to Bill English for his design.
Clever, loads of fun, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments – don’t miss out on the Barbecue at the Playhouse!
Barbecue runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until November 11. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website www.sfplayhouse.org.
Production photographs by Jessica Palopoli