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TAPS production ‘Barbecue’ navigates substance abuse with lighthearted tone

Play follows concerned siblings who try to stage intervention for their sister

“Barbecue” melds together moments of absolute comedy with more serious conversations about substance abuse.
“Barbecue” melds together moments of absolute comedy with more serious conversations about substance abuse.

The Department of Theatre Arts & Performance Studies’ Sock & Buskin production of “Barbecue,” now playing at the Leeds Theatre, is an equally hilarious and heartfelt play that tackles the difficulties of addiction and behavioral health. 

Written by Tony-nominated playwright Robert O’Hara, “Barbecue” follows the O’Mallerys, a group of concerned siblings who gather for a titular barbecue to stage an intervention for Barbara, their sister struggling with drug addiction. But there’s a small catch: There are two O’Mallery families, one Black and another white. The play smoothly alternates between scenes of each family as viewers watch the two sets of O’Mallery siblings try to convince Barbara to go to a rehab retreat in Alaska. 

“Barbecue” is directed by TAPS alum Jarrett Key ’13, who has played an important role in the success of the play, according to Rashaun Bertrand ’27, one of the actors playing the character James T.

“One of the reasons I was able to dive into James T as a character was because of how helpful and educated on theater the director was,” Bertrand said in an interview with The Herald. 


Explaining his process of bringing James T — a stoner and mild alcoholic — to life, Bertrand said that he “tapped into that one weird uncle at a family function who kind of has this raspy, very ‘old car engine’ laugh.” In the play, Bertrand’s James T comedically wields a taser around the barbecue, anticipating he’ll have to use it on an uncooperative Barbara.

Set designer Ford Rowe ’24 transformed the Leeds Theatre to model an American park, equipping the stage with grills and picnic tables to create a barbecue-esque setting. Rowe explained that “Barbecue” was the first comedy he ever designed for, adding that he was interested in toying with the notions of reality and falsehood that the play explores.

“‘Barbecue’ is a play that itself has many layers of storytelling — lies, half-truths and bait-and-switches — with regards to characters' intentions and motivations,” Rowe said. “I was interested in using the natural suspension of disbelief that an audience brings to any performance to sort of negotiate the idea of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ in the world itself.”

“Barbecue” melds together moments of absolute comedy with more serious conversations about substance abuse. Maiya Jannah Ramsaroop ’25, assistant stage manager for the production, discussed the collaborative process of working with the director, dramaturg and vocal coach to effectively communicate these themes.

“A lot of rehearsal, research and thoughtful conversations went into building the world of ‘Barbecue,’” Ramsaroop said. “We wanted to ensure our actors were best equipped with the tools, language and context to step into their characters.”

As part of this effort, the cast and crew collaborated with Sandy Valentine, executive director of the nonprofit Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts, Ramsaroop explained.

“Having the correct tools to speak about these characters and the struggles they are faced with was deeply empowering for the cast and crew alike,” Ramsaroop said. “It made the entire storytelling process a safer and more generative one.” 

The cast and crew of “Barbecue” hope audiences not only laugh at the characters’ interactions but also ponder the themes the play addresses. 

“I hope they think about the juxtaposition of white addicts and Black addicts and how those two groups are portrayed in the media,” Bertrand said. 

The contemplative cookout continues on at the Leeds Theatre until March 10.


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