1 DATE: Friday, THE MORNING LINE FROM: PAGES: Melissa Cohen, Michelle Farabaugh, Jennie Mamary Megan Ching, Zoe Edelman 12, including this page. Please note that BBB will be closed on Monday, October 12 in observance of Columbus Day. We will reopen on Tuesday, October 13.
4 Review: Barbecue, an Intervention With Love, Insults and Whiskey By Charles Isherwood Not much food is consumed at either of the two fractious family gatherings depicted in Barbecue, a rawly funny but uneven new comedy by the talented Robert O Hara that opened on Thursday at the Public Theater. Grilling meat and slicing pies are really only decoys, in fact. In both cases the real purpose of gathering the siblings from the O Mallery families one white, one black is to wrestle a member of the clan into rehab. Mr. O Hara, the author of last season s audacious Bootycandy, has a heat-seeking imagination when it comes to style and structure. That play took the form of a sketch comedy show as it tackled a tough subject, the stigmatization of homosexuality in African-American culture. Barbecue also has a frisky structure, but, in this case, the fun stops a little too early: Mr. O Hara springs a big reveal at the close of the first act that ultimately turns the play in a more serious and less satisfying direction. As the show begins, the white version of the O Mallerys is gathering in a local park. Picnic tables and grills are at center stage, and images of surrounding greenery glow from behind glass in Clint Ramos s set. It s blazingly clear that the O Mallerys are not from the upper echelons of American society. As they bicker and bitch in colorful, backwoodsy colloquialisms, we also learn that virtually every member of the family suffers from some form of addiction or pathology. Only Lillie Anne (Becky Ann Baker), who has taken it upon herself to supervise this intervention, seems to be reasonably even-keeled, although James T. (Paul Niebanck), the one male family member, sees things differently: I got four sisters in a time of need, one of which is you, he snaps at her as they await the arrival of the others. The younger Marie (Arden Myrin) has a problem with drinking and drugs herself, and enters lugging a maxisize bottle of Jack Daniel s. Her sister Adlean (Constance Shulman) totes a carton of menthols, and uses her recent breast cancer as an excuse (!) for her smoking and addiction to painkillers. Perhaps because they are content to cling to their own forms of self-medication (James T. s is marijuana), pretty much none of the family members are fully on board with Lillie Anne s plans to put their seriously methamphetamine- and alcoholaddicted sister, Barbara (Samantha Soule), in a treatment center. The same holds true for the other O Mallerys. The second scene takes place in the same park, but the family gathered this time is African-American, although its members have the same names and more or less the
5 same addictions as their white counterparts. They also share the antagonism, trading volleys of savage insults as they await the arrival of Barbara (Tamberla Perry). The cranky conversation here runs along similar lines. Lillie Anne s siblings are dubious, to say the least, about this plan, particularly since Barbara has a reputation for serious volatility, even violence. But Lillie Anne (Kim Wayans) dismisses Marie s recollection of one of Barbara s more outlandish antics. Barbara s teeth fell out five years ago, and the doctor gave her dentures, she snaps. How the hell she gon carry razor blades and dentures in her mouth at the same damn time? Mr. O Hara s raucous depiction of these characters tiptoes toward the sort of caricature he indulged in at times in Bootycandy. (It s equal-opportunity caricature, in any case.) The dialogue crackles with bleak jokes about the siblings misbehavior and rampant pathologies. And his underlying message that the plague of addiction is more a matter of class and culture than of skin color is certainly worth noting. Things naturally heat up when Barbara both Barbaras finally makes it to the party. As predicted, she doesn t exactly warm to the idea of heading to Alaska, where Lillie Anne has booked her into a center for three months. In one of the play s more startling images, when we return for a final visit with the black O Mallerys, we find Barbara bound to a tree, duct tape covering her mouth. Guess she s not ready for a juice cleanse and lots of yoga. Just when we are about to discover whether Lillie Anne (the black one) will carry the day, Mr. O Hara jolts us with a twist that ends the first act on an admittedly intriguing note. What follows, unfortunately, lets the helium out of the balloon, as the second act mostly dispatches with comedy entirely. Also unfortunately, there s not much I can report about the stylistic turns the play takes and what I found improbable or disappointing about them without giving away the game, which would amount to a spoiler the size of, well, a jumbo Jack Daniel s bottle. I can only say that Ms. Soule and Ms. Perry play significant roles, and only one plays the same character she did in the first act. They are equally terrific in both, although their characters in the second half are more subdued. Under the pungent direction of Kent Gash, all the actors including Heather Alicia Simms as the other Marie, Marc Damon Johnson as the other James T., and Benja Kay Thomas as the other Adlean dig into the rowdy cantankerousness of their characters, drawing out all the tangy humor in Mr. O Hara s writing. The second act of Barbecue takes some mild satirical potshots at the mania for misery memoirs, and America s seemingly endless fascination with turning self-destruction into entertainment, but to say much more wouldn t be fair. Still, I can t resist revealing the unlikely place we end up. Hint: It s that celestial realm of American culture where people in red-carpet dress say things like, I d like to thank my agent, my director, my fellow nominees and God. We ve come a long way from those grimy grills and plastic cups.
6 Review: Up and Away, a Trip Into the Clouds for a Special Audience By Laura Collins-Hughes I don t see us lifting off, the little blond girl said to her companion, Faux Fogg of the Fogg Family Balloon Society. It was a fair point. Seated in one of a gaggle of hot-air balloons beneath a fluffy white firmament, we could feel a breeze blowing it came from large, hand-held fans that some of the grown-ups were fluttering and we d been told that we were airborne. Yet not a single craft appeared to leave the ground. In our imaginations, Faux prompted amiably, and that seemed to do the trick. A few moments later, as we make-believe ascended through make-believe clouds in the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center, Faux (Emily Bruner) offered to spray the girl with some mist, because that s what clouds feel like. The child eagerly stretched out her arms. Generosity and gentleness of spirit may be the two most striking features of Up and Away, a joyous new show created for children on the autism spectrum. Directed by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman and set in a semi- Victorian milieu, it s a journey into the sky very loosely inspired by Jules Verne s Around the World in 80 Days. Soothing without being soporific, it s an intimate experience: only eight children per performance, each paired with a friendly member of the Fogg Family, who accompanies that child throughout. (There is a waiting list for the remaining performances in the run, through Nov. 1.) The result of a two-year collaboration between Lincoln Center Education and Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, this carefully assembled multisensory experience is a stellar example of how to connect with an underserved audience by identifying obstacles to theatergoing and removing them one by one. Worthy endeavors are easy to applaud, but Up and Away, which I attended one morning this week with a school group of 7- and 8-year-olds, is small-batch, immersive theater at its most thoughtful and deliberate. Making its audience feel welcome and at ease is fundamental to the production an approach a lot of mainstream theater could stand to learn from.
7 Every element of the show has been made with the audience in mind, from the warm, tuneful greeting in the lobby by the Fogg Family musicians, the ukulele-strumming Foon (Natalie Mack) and the banjo-playing Frop (Jason Vance) to the set s walls (rip-resistant Tyvek, in case anyone wants to touch). Surprises can be unpleasant for people on the autism spectrum, so the script (by Drew Petersen) keeps them to a minimum, explaining events in advance and making very clear the rules of this particular game. The lighting (by Simon Harding) is soft so as not to jar. The costumes (by Natalie Loveland) are boldly colored, the women s bustles of varying textures, to distinguish characters by sight and feel. The multiroom environment (by Nick Benacerraf) includes a sanctuary for anyone who becomes overwhelmed. The unusually happy vibe of the performance is a function, I think, of the radical hospitality of the undertaking. Sympathy for the needs of the audience shaped the art. Conventions were thrown out; they had to be. When I left Up and Away, humming the theme song (the show s music is by Chris Gabriel, who wrote the lyrics with Mr. Petersen), I was thinking less about its audience than audiences in general. Spectators often seem to be the least contemplated, least respected element of a production, even in immersive theater, where they re tossed into the world of a play and left to fend for themselves. It was surprising, even moving, to see artists consider them so deeply, in such a compassionate embrace of human variety. But it was savvy, too. If you want to lead audience members on a voyage, it s wise to give them what they ll need to follow you. Up and Away runs through Nov. 1 at the Clark Studio Theater at Lincoln Center; upandaway.nyc.