"Barbecue" Review- Strawdog Theatre Company Deals with the Nature of Identity

Robert O’Hara’s play “Barbeque” is currently being presented by Strawdog Theatre Company at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted through September 30th. The plot is a complex commentary on our perceptions, our prejudices, substance abuse in families and the nature of “truth” in reality and awards shows. Along the way, it delivers a lot of laughs with some very funny dialogue and physical humor amidst the underlying social commentary, cleverly revealed in a series of twists and turns.

Abigail Pierce, Barbara Figgins, Anita Deely, John Henry Roberts and Kristin Collins

 Two identically configured families of siblings- each consisting of 3 sisters and a brother- convene in a public park’s barbeque space to stage a drug and alcohol intervention for their “alcoholic crackhead ho” sister, Barbara, not so affectionately referred to as “Zippity-Boom”. One of the families is white while the other is black.  As the action switches back and forth between the families, one realizes that this is an exercise in mirror imaging. Family members fulfill identical positions, deal with the same issues, guzzle the same intoxicating spirits, wear the same clothing and talk the same way, quickly and convincingly debunking the myth of “Otherness”, of “Us vs. Them”.

Abigail Pierce and Ginneh Thomas

 Only 1 sister in each sibset is straight- all of the rest are addicted to substances or behaviors at some level. The straight sister, who has manufactured the plot, has come up with a treatment program in Alaska- the others want to keep Zippity closer to home. The arguing and bargaining really commence after they’ve captured- and bound and gagged- Zippity. If the drama seems like a Jerry Springer family attack scene, it’s meant to; we in America revel in seeing and hearing our neighbors call each other nasty and trifling.

Celeste M. Cooper, Terence Sims, Deanna Reed-Foster and Kamille Dawkins

This reviewer, and the rest of the audience, had a ball laughing at the superbly stylized portrayals given these characters in the first act as they exchange raw, profane, vicious and witty observations about each other. The barbs they throw are calculated to dig sharply, fueled with the unique knowledge that only a brother or sister, especially one with a similar problem, could have. The lines are delivered throughout with perfect comedic timing, whether muttered, yelled, screeched or hurled at each other.

 In the second act, the scenario unexpectedly changes; Zippity has been rehabbed and is meeting a famous singer/would-be moviestar in the park to discuss the rights to her memoirs, created-or invented- while journaling in rehab. From this point on, the play is taken on a somewhat disturbingly different course as the lines between reality, enhanced reality and just plain lies soften and blur. The repartee here is even more pointed, but the stakes are very different.


Celeste M. Cooper, Deanna Reed-Foster and Kamille Dawkins

 The dialogue throughout is fast and satiric, Damon Kiely’s direction tight, the cast talented. Featuring Barbara Figgins and Deanna Reed-Foster, a dynamic duo as the ferocious sober sister; Kristin Collins and Kamille Dawkins, equally believable as the gentlest sister; John Henry Roberts and Terence Sims, both wryly humorous as the sardonic tazer wielding pothead brother; Celeste M. Cooper and Anita Deely, a wildly entertaining duo as the second most screwed-up sister. This reviewer’s compliments go to Ginneh Thomas and Abby Pierce as our heroine, “Zippity”, who together take the story from caricature and farce to an unexpected dramatic height.

 Thanks to Joanna Iwanicka, set designer for the simple and believable park scenario; Aly Renee Amidei, costume designer for spot-on and very appropriate outfits and wigs; Jared Gooding, lighting designer for clarity of vision; and Heath Hays, sound designer for some rocking tunes.

John Henry Roberts, Anita Deely, Barbara Figgins and Kristin Collins


For information on all the fine productions at Steppenwolf Theatre, including the LookOut Visiting Series at it’s 1700 Stage, go to the Steppenwolftheatre website


For information about Strawdog Theatre Company, go to the Strawdogtheatrecompany website



All photos by Heath Hays


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