Comedy-satire is next for Penn State Centre Stage’s 2016-17 season, with “Barbecue” running at the Pavilion Theatre through April 1.
Written by Robert O’Hara and directed by Steve Broadnax, “Barbecue” forces uneasy thoughts about the facile presumptions we make about poverty, race and social class, as applied to dysfunctional families.
Jordan Cooper plays White Barbara, a former addict of multiple substances who is still battling addictive tendencies. She is the youngest of multiple children who are all battling various addictions.
“She is a very complicated woman who definitely lives in the highest highs and lowest lows of her life — there is really no middle ground for her,” Cooper said. “Throughout the production, she is wading through the muddy waters of what her truths and lies are — the ones she has told herself and the ones that others have told her.”
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Cooper said she relates to Barbara in a lot of ways: crazy family members; addictive personality; headstrong; and stubborn.
“I also don’t relate to her in a lot of ways,” she said. “My addictive personality results in eating particular foods too much or watching ‘Parks and Rec’ over and over — not drugs and alcohol. I’m not so quick to act on impulse. I live in a more middle ground area rather than just my highs and lows.”
Johnique Mitchell plays Marie, a fun, out-going, strong-minded person who’s always on the go and doesn’t sit still.
“Her vices are recreational crack and Jack Daniels, so she’s a party girl that doesn’t miss a beat,” Mitchell said. “She is the entertainer of the family. She is one of the babies, so she loves the attention of her older siblings.”
For Mitchell, “Barbecue” is special because she has never played a role so familiar yet so extremely absurd, and yet really funny.
“I feel extremely protective over her, as people like Marie are easily put into a box and tagged a stereotype,” she said. “She’s a person with a past and a future and she has found ways to co-exist with the road blocks in her life.
Auditions for “Barbecue” occurred before Christmas break, during the run of “Twelfth Night,” one of Penn State Centre Stage’s productions from last semester. Broadnax led multiple discussions about the importance of the media, the press, the internet, social media, addiction and how they all tie together.
“I truly believe what Steve has said — that we are holding a mirror up to society so they can take a glimpse at what they really look like through their behavior and the ways they treat the people around them,” Cooper said. “This show holds a mirror to our world to show us what we look like, how we behave and how we treat each other.”
Cooper hopes the audience won’t be able to stop talking about “Barbecue,” as there are so many ideas and experiences to be taken away from the show.
“They will experience a comedy about a multi-layered family with a lot of problems to work on through the lens of addiction,” she said. “I think this show will hit them in waves — it’s so unexpected and delicious in so many respects that I think the audience won’t know what to do but need to talk about it.”
“I hope the audience will re-think stereotypes, and I want them to live and experience the real lives and humanity of these characters,” Mitchell said. “Yes, they are funny, but sometimes we laugh to keep from crying.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Penn State Centre Stage’s “Barbecue”
- When: through April 1
- Where: Pavilion Theatre, University Park
- Info: www.theatre.psu.edu