Krannert’s latest play brings satire to domestic issues


Photo courtesy of Darrell Hoemann

“Barbecue” currently playing at the Krannert Center deals with family problems such as addiction and anger.

By Paige Blanzy, Staff Writer

“Barbecue,” a production currently playing at the Krannert Center, deals with family problems, such as addiction and anger, while still bringing a satirical, comedic tone to these issues.

The production originally premiered at the Public Theater in New York City on Oct. 8, 2015, where it was directed by Kent Gash.

Chuck Smith is currently directing “Barbecue” at the University as a guest director. Smith has been a resident director at Chicago Goodman Theatre for over 25 years.

Smith is quite comfortable working with students. He taught theater at Columbia College Chicago for over 20 years and has directed shows at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as other universities and colleges.

“I’ve never worked with students as prepared to do the work as I have here, in any university setting,” Smith said.

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    Smith also added he never felt he had to talk down to the students because everyone acted like professionals, which allowed him to treat them like true professionals.

    Sofia Fey, senior in FAA, is the assistant director for the play. After reading “Barbecue,” she said it was the first script that she had read in a long time that had genuinely surprised her.

    “As much as it is a comedy, it also has a lot to say about people today,” Fey said.

    “Barbecue” is able to bring awareness to the pressing matter of addiction through comedy as a family has an intervention for their sister, which they disguise as a family picnic.

    “We get to explore. We get to challenge. We do get to do controversial plays that do make audiences think because that’s really what we’re here for,” said Dr. Kirsten Pullen, head of the Theatre Department at the University.

    Pullen has a committee of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students that bring a slate of plays to her and the department. They discuss the potential plays, and she ultimately decides whether or not the plays can be performed at the University.

    Pullen was shocked after reading the script.

    She wondered if there would be controversy surrounding this show but loved the idea that it would stir conversation among the audience and make people think.

    She added because they are a University theater, they do not have to sell tickets or please big donors. This allows them to step out of the box and produce more provocative plays that bring awareness to important topics and let people see them in a different light.

    The cast rehearsed for about two months, beginning February 5. Smith claimed there was no problem casting this play due to how much talent there was available. The show is made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors.

    “What they are learning here is outstanding. It’s top-notch,” Smith said.

    Fey was thrilled with the way the audience would be able to connect with “Barbecue” because it dealt with situations any family would go through, but it made it funny and entertaining.

    “The best kind of theatre points a mirror at the audience and has them look at themselves,” Fey said.

    Usually, as an assistant to the director, Fey would be spending her time doing coffee runs, but Smith was much different. She said Smith listened to all of her notes, making her input feel important and making her feel valued by the production team.

    Fey also was extremely excited when she found out they would be producing a comedy because they have students from the University’s Theatre 101 course coming to the show, and she hoped it would spark an interest in theater amongst students. 

    Smith described the production as a dream job. He said that throughout the entire rehearsal process, there were no bumps in the road. The entire cast came together to make the show as successful as possible.

    “In five to 10 years you’re going to see some of these actors in the mainstream because they’re so good,” Smith said.

    In a few words, Smith would describe “Barbecue” as a satire of how the American media depicts and portrays the lower class.

    Pullen said because Krannert Center is an educational theater space, questions of race, identity, class, addiction and family should arise in the shows performed there.

    “We are part of the educational mission of the entire University, not just our department. We’re here for the whole campus to help them think, talk and listen,” Pullen said.

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