Saturday, August 01, 2009

Big Love

BIG LOVE,’ a fun, bizarre experience at convergence continuum

If you’ve ever attended a play at convergence continuum, Tremont’s 40-seat off-off Playhouse Square theatre, you know that the weirder the script, the more Clyde Simon, the venue’s artistic director, likes it. Charles Mee’s ‘BIG LOVE perfectly fits Simon’s passions.

‘Big Love’ is an adaptation of ‘THE SUPPLIANT MAIDENS, an ancient Greek play by Aeschylus. In its updated version, it is set on the southern coast of modern Italy. The story concerns 50 brides who flee their 50 grooms and seek asylum at a costal Italian villa. The brides arrive clothed in their wedding dresses, supposedly having swum to shore (from where we do not know). They are met by the villa’s colorful family (a swinging old stereotypically dressed Italian lady who has mothered a brood of boys), her gay attendant, her devoted oldest son, and a couple of eccentric visitors. Attempts to convince the brides to consent to marry don’t work and the women come to the conclusion that they will marry, kill their husbands on the wedding night, and then live happily ever after. (I told you Simon loves the bizarre.) Of course, there are lots of twists and turns and dead body parts flying around.

The convergence stage won’t hold 50 couples, so we only meet three of them. One “bride” is a strident feminist, while her groom is the ultimate misogynist; a second bride is a slightly airheaded Cinderella who only wants a man to take care of her, and she is betrothed to a puppy dog man who is none too bright. The third couple represents the happy medium.

Author Mee says of the script, "I wanted to go back to one of the earliest plays of the Western World and see how it would look today. See if it still spoke to the moment, and of course it does. It’s all about refugees and gender wars and men and women trying to find what will get them through the rubble of dysfunctional relationships, and anger and rage and heartache.”

Convergence’s production is basically well done. The cast, with a couple of exceptions is fine. Lauren Smith (Thyona) is right on target as the women’s libber bride (and, if you say differently, she appears like she can beat the bejeebers out of you). Laurel Johnson looks like she just escaped from a Barbie doll wrapping and plays the air headed Olympia with perfect ease. Liz Conway (Lydia) plays the “normal” bride with the right touch of certainty and uncertainty. Their “grooms” are equal to the task. Scott Gorbach (Nilos) does a perfect Forrest Gump. His constant dazed expression is priceless. Studly Geoffrey Hoffman (Constantine) is the macho Alpha man incarnate and Stuart Hoffman plays straight, straight.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith (Bella) is hysterical as the “innocent” promiscuous old lady who has a history of mothering children with various men who are the “loves of her life.” Her polishing tomatoes scene is a show stopper.

Guitarist Mark K uses his guitar well to bridge scenes and moods.

Bobby Williams as Piero, Bella’s son, spends too much time feigning and posing to develop a realistic presentation, while Tony Thai overdoes every fay gay stereotypical movement to portray Marco. His feet hardly hit the floor as he flits around.

Jeremy Paul has created some impressive animation videos and Jim Smith’s set is impressive.

There are production problems. The bride’s crawl on shore, after being in the water, and emerges totally dry. Also, we can see clearly through the gauzy front screen and see the fake pantomiming of the“killings,” and….(but it matters little, the whole bizarre thing works).

Capsule Judgement: Charles Mee’s ‘BIG LOVE,’ in all of its craziness has a message or two and gets a fun production at convergence-continuum. The theatre only has 39 seats, so if you are planning on going, call now!