Risk-taking theater Hole in the Wall is hosting a wild but dark family ‘Barbecue’

New Britain’s Hole in the Wall Theater has been a distinctive part of the local community theater scene for half a century. It hasn’t lasted that long by being tame or mainstream. The neatly designed black-box space, easy to find in downtown New Britain, takes chances with its programming choices that even Connecticut’s major regional theaters don’t take. Recently that means abrasive and difficult (yet often very funny) works by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Sam Shepard and Qui Nguyen.

Hole in the Wall is designed to take such chances. Those who work on shows there become voting members at the general meetings where the theater’s seasons are decided. There are generally seven shows a year plus showcases and other events. Any member can propose a show, and the proposals are voted on by the entire membership. This leads to a variety that eludes theaters with smaller leadership teams.


This week, Hole in the Wall is offering the state’s first production of Robert O’Hara’s “Barbecue.” It’s a disarming, disorienting and swear-filled family drama, written with several shifting social perspectives. Describing it in detail might give away its unexpected twists and turns, but audiences should brace themselves for some loud arguments and harsh truths.

Longtime Hole in the Wall member Teresa Langston proposed “Barbecue” and is directing it. She’s never seen the show performed and was originally introduced to it before it had its first major production.


“A friend had been asked to workshop the script before it was at Steppenwolf,” Langston explains. Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, known for developing major new American plays, commissioned “Barbecue,” though its world premiere was at New York City’s Public Theater in 2015.

“I was looking for pieces that were written for everyone. When I read this, I couldn’t put it down. It had me from the very beginning. We’re trying to be more diverse at Hole in the Wall, and this has diversity of race, generations, orientations. And it’s a satire, which we don’t often do. It’s dark but also very uproariously funny and completely unpredictable. There isn’t a thing in this show that’s not surprising. It doesn’t fit in an easy category. It doesn’t follow the normal rules of theater, except I guess that it has an intermission.”

Langston’s relationship with Hole in the Wall goes back decades, with some large gaps. She has both acted and directed for the company.

“I was president of the organization for a few years in the ‘90s but I got burned out from the intense work plus having a family and a job. Then I got more pulled into the New Haven theater scene. Then I lived in Vermont for 12 years, where there are so many great small companies. When I moved back to Connecticut, not many community theaters were looking at new works. You don’t see a lot of contemporary stuff. This is a very edgy script, about addiction and recovery.

“So Hole in the Wall drew me back in. I got to play Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie,” which was on my bucket list, and had a great experience. This theater has many strong points. With the open membership, it’s not the same handful of people calling all the shots. There’s always new energy coming in. But you also have to go through a serious process to get your show done.”


“The whole idea of the company when it was founded 50 years ago was to not have a clique that runs it,” Langston says. Hole in the Wall made sure it was accessible to audiences as well.

“Fifty years ago, they were concerned even then about the price of tickets shutting people out.”

Shows have a suggested donation of $25 ($20 for students and seniors) as well as group discounts and season passes, but Hole in the Wall states clearly on its website that “theater should be available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.”

“Barbecue” has a 10-person cast, large for even community theaters these days.


“It can be harder to get larger casts together post-COVID,” Langston says. Again, the unique structure, character and reputation of Hole in the Wall came in handy in bringing together a large, talented cast and crew.

“The cast comes from all over Connecticut,” Langston says. “There are three people I’ve worked with before, and seven I haven’t. The crew is as diverse as the cast.”

After “Barbecue,” Hole in the Wall has two more shows in its current season: Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” Oct. 7 to 22 and David Auburn’s mathematically complex family drama “Proof” Dec. 2 to 17.

The Shakespeare comedy balances darker, quirkier choices from this season, not just “Barbecue” and “Proof” but earlier offerings such as Douglas Turner Ward’s “Days of Absence,” an African-American social satire from the 1960s which Langston says brought in a much wider audience than the theater ofter sees; Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters,” a fantasy based around the theme of teen suicide; and Sam Shepard’s seldom seen modern tragedy “Heartless.”

Hole in the Wall’s 2023 season is currently being planned.

“If you think this year was dark, next season’s even darker,” Langston says, laughing. “We’re looking for comedies now to pop in there.”


“Barbecue” by Robert O’Hara, directed by Teresa Langston, runs Aug. 26 through Sept. 10 at Hole in the Wall Theater, 116 Main Street, New Britain. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The suggested donation is $25, $20 for students and seniors. Hole in the Wall Theater will hold a special celebration of its 50th anniversary on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. Hole in the Wall began in the back of a bookstore on New Britain’s Oak Street in 1972 and moved several times over the years before it found its current home. hitw.org.

Christopher Arnott can be reached at carnott@courant.com.

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