Everything was set for a nice dinner party, until the hosts realized they’d made one crucial mistake: They’d asked more guests than they had seating.
“We’d invited four people, and we only had four chairs at our dining table,” recalls playwright Matt Lyle. So he and his wife—the unaccounted-for extra two diners—ended up “sitting on the ottoman with plates on our laps. There was a lot of stress leading up to it, and then constant apologizing. Once I got over the shame, we had a fine time.”
That mix-up gave Lyle the idea for a play, Barbecue Apocalypse, which was a hit in its debut last year at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas and will get its second production this month at Ruckus Theatre in Chicago (Feb. 15–March 15). In moving the party outside to a suburban grill, Lyle ditched the seating dilemma but kept the serving of shame. The resulting play—about three couples who fare wildly differently in the face of an offstage calamity, the source and nature of which is kept intentionally somewhat vague—is about “how we judge ourselves and what silly things we feel shame about. On what criteria do you base how you’re doing in your life? Is it what people think about you?”
Throwing the bourgie social pecking order into sharp comedic relief, in the first act Lyle has his three couples skittish about a new gas grill and “arguing over what kind of all-natural organic beef is best. By the second act, they’re thrilled that they killed a raccoon and are grilling it.”
Lyle grew up in East Texas but says he didn’t appreciate barbecuing until he lived in Chicago, where he learned to relish the relatively scarce warmth of a charcoal grill all the more. Oddly enough, the Windy City is where Lyle wrote Barbecue Apocalypse, only to have it premiere in Dallas. And though its second production is now imminent in Chicago, Lyle and his wife have since relocated…to Dallas.