SU Drama’s ‘Barbecue’ brings light to the taboos of the American family

SU Drama's 'Barbecue' brings light to American family taboos

Syracuse University's Drama department presents "Barbecue" at Syracuse Stage.
Published: February 20, 2023

All families have drama. All families have issues. Some are more broken than others. Is any family really that different?

SU Drama’s play Barbecue brings light to somewhat taboo and controversial topics of our time surrounding the American family but also has the audience in for a good time. The play focuses on the O’Mallery families, one Black and one white, introducing them to parallel family situations, taking place at a family barbecue where an intervention is being staged for one of their daughters.

Flipping back and forth between the two families, the show is full of interesting twists and turns. As the play progresses, the family dynamics are shown between the two families and within each family. The two central characters of Barbecue are the daughters of the two O’Mallery families, Black Barbara (Morgan Perry) and White Barbara (Rileigh Very). The first act focuses on the intervention and the mirrored narratives of the O’Mallery families, which sets the audience up for a surprising second act.

What makes Barbecue come alive are the different issues that arise with each character and how they are shared in the play. A trigger warning to all who come to see the show — the story’s discussion involves some family members touching on important and complex subject matter such as domestic abuse and addiction.

But how do the actors of Barbecue get into playing these complicated, funny and real characters? Because these characters take on the harder subject material, some table work and workshopping took place for the actors. Rileigh Very who plays white Barbara took the time to find the roots of her character as she is the one daughter that the white O’Mallery family has the intervention staged for at the beginning of the show.

“Diving into this character has been the biggest learning experience for me. She is so complex; she is the most complex character I have ever played,” Very said. “Being able to dive into addiction and learning what a crack addict would undergo and what they would feel and their quirks and ticks that they would have while trying to recover… all that research… it has been such a rewarding experience.”

Because of the heavy content within Barbecue, the cast has grown close while creating the show. Under the direction of Gilbert McCauley and associate director Shannon Lamb, the cast started rehearsing and practicing on January 10, after having auditions the previous semester.

“The environment that [McCauley and Lamb] have created in the room has been so perfect and so supportive, and very much about finding the realism in the story and the realism in each other,” Perry said. “It has just been an amazing thing to be a part of.”

From the underlying themes to the unique storyline that the playwright of Barbecue Robert O’Hara serves his audience, the cast has come together to present a show to examine the American family stereotypes that society has created, and that although the designs of families are different, there are similarities. Using comedic and satirical elements within the show, the characters are meant to be hilarious but also draw on real issues.

“I think anyone who comes is going to laugh and get something from it. But I really think anyone that comes is also going to see themselves in it or their member of their family, or someone they know and is going to gain a better perspective about the world by watching this story play out. It rings really true to the times we are living in now,” actor Seamus Doyle said.

The less you know about Barbecue, the better; just remember to have an open mind and open heart when coming to the play. Be prepared to laugh, to learn and to feel everything in between. Take a seat and take it all in for yourself — Barbecue runs until February 26.