Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Big Love ****

Since suffering through Charles Mee’s play First Love in 2001, I have studiously avoided seeing anything else by him. I was dismayed to learn that a revival of his Big Love had turned up on my subscription series at Signature Theatre. To my great surprise, the preview I attended turned out to be thoroughly entertaining. I was put in a good mood even before entering the theater. Outside the entrance was an enormous pile of Tiffany-like gift boxes. Inside, the entire ceiling was covered with upside-down flowers. The white walls of the set (by Brent J. Banakis) featured projections of pastoral Italian scenes (by Austin Switser). The back wall of the stage was a beautiful blue sky above rippling Mediterranean waters. The tranquility did not last long. Lydia (Rebecca Naomi Jones) bursts in in a dirty wedding gown, which she promptly strips off for a bath in the onstage tub. She and her 49 sisters have fled Greece for Italy to escape forced marriage to their 50 cousins. The two other sisters that we meet are Olympia (Libby Winters), a valley-girl style airhead who likes to take selfies, and Thyona (Stacey Sargeant), a very angry militant feminist. They seek refuge from Piero (Christopher Innvar), owner of the villa. When their jilted grooms arrive by helicopter to claim their brides, Piero attempts to negotiate a compromise with them. We meet three of the grooms, the assertive Constantine (Ryan James Hatanaka), the sweet Nikos (Bobby Steggert) and the nondescript Oed (Emmanuel Brown). When the grooms refuse to compromise, the sisters decide to take drastic action. When one sister fails to follow through on their pact, she is tried for her betrayal. The judge is Piero’s wise mother Bella (Lynn Cohen). The other characters are Giuliano (Preston Sadleir), Piero’s gay son, and Eleanor (Ellen Harvey) and Leo (Nathaniel Stampley), two weekend guests; their role in the play seemed superfluous. Some of the themes touched on are the conflicting roles that a society expects of its men and the competing claims of love and justice. Much is demanded of the actors. The trio of sisters, as well as the three brothers, burst into song periodically. When frustrated, they throw themselves to the floor or against the nearest wall. Fight directors Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet somehow have taught them not to injure themselves in the process. The tongue-in-cheek costumes by Anita Yavich are wonderful. Director Tina Landau has successfully knit all the elements together into a very enjoyable theater piece. Running time: one hour, 40 minutes, no intermission.

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