'Big Love': EW review
Big Love (2015)
Dresses are doffed, dinnerware is destroyed, and three disheveled renegade brides introduce themselves with a rousing rendition of “You Don’t Own Me”. And that’s just for starters. Signature Theatre Company’s revival of Charles Mee’s much-produced 2000 play Big Love is a riotous explosion of color and sound, a classic tale of love and betrayal wrapped up with an avant-garde bow.
In this modern take on Aeschylus, 50 sisters are engaged–under a contract arranged by their father–to 50 brothers. Unwilling to marry, the women flee from Greece to Italy in search of asylum, with their would-be husbands on their heels. The conflict between the two parties eventually comes to a head, offering comedy, tragedy, and sly commentary on current-day gender politics in the process.
As befits the playwright’s original inspiration, the characters are archetypal: militant Thyona, portrayed with scene-stealing ferocity by Stacey Sargeant, is the extreme sister (“Boy babies should be flushed down the toilet at birth,” she proclaims), while beauty product-loving, selfie-snapping Olympia (Libby Winters) represents the opposite end of the spectrum. Lydia (American Idiot’s Rebecca Naomi Jones, in a charmingly wide-eyed performance) is positioned midway between the two as a moderate feminist with a romantic streak; luckily for her, lovelorn fiancé Nikos (Bobby Steggert) is sweet and sensitive. On the other hand, Constantine (Ryan-James Hatanaka), Thyona’s betrothed, wouldn’t be out of place at a men’s rights convention. (“It’s not easy to be a man, the expectations people have that a man should be a civilized person,” he says, not at all ironically.) Thankfully, the tension of war between the sexes is mitigated by a strong supporting cast, including Preston Sadleir as gentle daydreamer Giuliano and Sex and the City’s Lynn Cohen as matriarch of the family unexpectedly drawn into the sisters’ drama, and the calm center in the eye of the storm.
Brett Banakis’s scenic design is deceptively peaceful, a crisp white room looking out over an impossibly blue ocean, with rows of vibrant flowers dangling upside-down overhead. Such a clean palette practically begs for chaos, and no one familiar with Greek mythology will be at all surprised by how the situation escalates. Still, the way in which events unfold is mesmerizing; under Tina Landau’s imaginative direction, the actors make full use of the U-shaped stage, swinging from the walls and flinging themselves to the floor as live video and prerecorded clips serve as a backdrop. That pristine canvas is soon in a state of disarray, and as things start to go south, Lydia muses, “Sometimes I feel as though I’m standing on a thousand dinner plates on the side of a muddy hill, and my job is to keep from sliding down the hill.” She may not succeed, but the resulting debacle is a thing of beauty. All of life’s failures should be this compelling. A-