UNCSA presents “Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara, a gripping exploration of a family intervention

The schools of Design and Production and Drama at UNCSA present “Barbecue,” a play by American playwright and director Robert O’Hara, about a dysfunctional family who stages an intervention during a gathering in the hopes of getting one family member into rehab. It will be directed by Drama faculty member Cliff Odle.

Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 22-24 and Feb. 29-March 2, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Patrons Theatre in Performance Place, 1533 S. Main St. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for non-UNCSA students with ID at online or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.

“The play is having fun with some serious subjects,” Odle said. “It brings us along in a manner that is in no way demeaning. It is the story of a dysfunctional family that is trying to help an even more dysfunctional family member. It’s a family of addicts who are trying to help one of their own.”

"Barbecue" rendering / Photo: Tierney Brennan, scenic designer

"Barbecue" rendering / Photo: Tierney Brennan, scenic designer

The story is set in a park and Odle is presenting it on a central stage surrounded by audience members on all sides.

“There’s nowhere for the audience or the actors to hide,” Odle says. “It’s wide open.”

The play deals with issues of race and class in clever ways.

“There’s a twist in that you don’t know if they (the characters) are Black or white, and there’s a bigger twist that brings it all together,” Odle said. “There’s a lot of truth in the show and questions of who owns the truth. They know each other, and they know how to lie.”

Part of the journey for the audience is how they judge the characters.

“Watching the audience figure it out is the joy for me,” Odle said, “And watching them realize that what they thought was going on is not really what is going on.”

Fourth-year Drama students Aphrodite Armstrong and Kennedy Jackson play Barbara, the target of her family’s projections.

Aphrodite Armstrong (left), Kennedy Jackson (right), both are playing Barbara

Aphrodite Armstrong (left), Kennedy Jackson (right), both are playing Barbara

“I’m loving playing her,” Armstrong said. “She reminds me of people who I know, which is a big part of my process. It’s about imaginative journalism. I like to watch people and notice the way they move and speak. When they twist and turn, and the way they move through the world.

“I also think there’s something about playing the ‘bad’ person; it gives you a lot of opportunity to explore. You hear a lot about Barbara before they see her. It speaks to the sensationalized stories of addiction among celebrities that we hear about.”

Barbara’s character’s nickname is Zippity Boom for the way that she behaves when she is intoxicated.

“She is a liar. She is a thief. She’s really, really resourceful and smart. In any situation that she is in, she will find a way out,” Armstrong said. “At the end of the day, I think she’s sweet. She rides a really interesting line between deceit and honesty. The play explores the stories that we tell as opposed to the lies that we live.”

Odle said: “As a director, it’s fun to put this all together and watch the actors get into it. As an actor, these are fun roles, and as a playwright, I appreciate the craft.”

Ciff Odle, director

Ciff Odle, director

Due to the topic of the story, Odle and the cast are working with counselors at UNCSA.

“They are helping us get context,” Odle said. “They are educating the actors – and also the audience – on the effects of substance abuse and addiction.”

“Addiction is a disease, so I like to think of her (Barbara) as a sick person with a disease that prevents her from connecting with her family and those around her,” Armstrong said. “She is missing connection, and it’s what she needs. She’s on the precipice of losing everything. She’s at her rock bottom.”

During the intervention, Barbara has a moment of clarity when she is able to see that substance abuse is the common denominator in all of her problems.

“Things become really real for her,” Armstrong said. “But the way the play is structured, the audience doesn’t necessarily see that moment of clarity.”

The play also addresses addiction from different socioeconomic viewpoints.

“Addiction can happen to anybody,” Armstrong said. “Part of the commentary is about ‘How does upward mobility work for Black versus white when it comes to overcoming addiction?’

“There is subversion of the expectation in this play, and part of the fun is: What does an addict look like? There’s no right way to answer. They look like everybody.”

The cast for “Barbecue” includes Drama students Evan Barnard and Jude Kilumbu as James T, Mikenzi Barrow and Tanner McIntyre as Lillie Anne, Yael Eve as Marie, Daniella Macre and Ryleigh Walker as Adlean, and Jamilah Muhammad as Marie.

From the School of Design and Production, the scenic designer is Tierney Brennan, the lighting designer is Thania Melendez, the wig and makeup designer is Madison Pattillo, the costume designer is Gabriela Hertel, the technical director is Jake Wales, the scenic paint charge is Sophie Frances Block, the sound designer is Abirami Senthil, the properties director is Mahalet Andargachew, the production stage manager is Alex Magallanes and the production manager is Eden S Kinsey.

About Cliff Odle

New Jersey native Cliff Odle teaches acting and directing in the School of Drama. Odle has directed plays including “Amadeus,” “Agnes of God,” “Yellowface” and “The Colored Museum” for venues including the Livian Yeh Fresh Ink Theater, the Charles Draghi New Urban Theatre Lab and the Umass Theater. His acting resume is extensive with over 50 performances for a variety of productions for the Wheelock Family Theatre, the New Repertory Theatre, the GAMM Theatre and others. He's held a variety of roles in the Boston-area debut of “Passing Strange,” “Race,” “Fences” and “The Color Purple.” He’s written work including “Lost Tempo,” “Our Girl in Trenton,” “Running the Bulls,” “The Petition,” and “Slammin’ the Bones.” Odle has extensive teaching experience at the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Emerson College; Wheelock College; Boston University; and Bates College. He is a New Jersey native.

Content Warning: References to drug use and addiction, profane language and mild violence.

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February 08, 2024