By Charles L. Mee
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
by Laura Hitchcock
Not since Peter Brook imported his high-trapeze version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream some 20+ years ago has a classic gone so physical as Big Love”, Charles L. Mee’s interpretation of Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women. Reviewed in New York by CurtainUp,s Dave Lohrey, it’s fresh and original as tomorrow morning, justifying Mee’s arresting dialogue, “Tomorrow will take today by storm!” as well as demonstrating the glee and passion of his inventive physicality.
Big Love jumps some centuries forward in Italian theatre time to scoop up commedia del arte techniques, contemporary ballads (remember when Frank Sinatra was the target of “”Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”?), and politically correct gender wars that were just as correct when Aeschylus was writing.
Aeschylus’s fifty brides, fleeing Greece and their fifty assigned grooms, are reduced to three representatives who land at an Italian villa inhabited by Piero in his Gucci shirt, his mama Bella in her basic Italian-old-lady black, and gay brother Giullano who jumps at the chance to model a wedding dress. The next trio to arrive is the grooms in determined pursuit of the ones who got away. They were pledged, they were promised, and that’s it.
Only it isn’t. Although beautiful passionate Lydia (Dana Dewes) is the essence of sensuality, opening the show by stripping off her wedding gown and plunging nude into an onstage bathtub, it’s Thyona (Katy Selverstone) who runs the show, bullying Olympia, a Marilyn Monroe type played by Lesley Fera, and the others into standing up for their freedom.
Many of Mee’s favorite speeches are assigned to Bella (Diane Hurley), whose Italian mama persona alternates with oracle, goddess and Ruler of the Roost. Pop songs include “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, tenderly crooned by Guillano (Alexander Enberg), which could be the theme song of the love/hate conflicts of the young brides. The infuriating frustration of those conflicts is expressed first by the brides, then the grooms, as they throw themselves against the floor repeatedly in movements that are half somersalt, half blow. In a climactic bloody ballet, the women fight back. Except for one. Lydia, who falls in love with her husband Nikos, must stand trial for betraying her sisters. The judge, Bella, finds a balance between equality and love but the playwright has the last word and it’s a question the audience is asking all along. Even as the sole surviving bride and groom take hands and leave the stage, the troubled smiles which are all they can muster demonstrate that their play is only beginning.
Director Mel Shapiro has a delicate way with violence and choreographs the play on the tiny stage of the Pacific Resident Theatre with sly precision. Memorable among the excellent cast are Katy Selverstone whose mobile and passionate triangular face holds the stage; enhancing her characterization from sophisticated cat to Jaguar; Diane Hurley, strong and compelling in the dual role of Bella/Eleanor; Scott Conte as a tough fiery Constantine; Jason Huber as a Nikos who ties himself up in knots literally and figuratively; Alexander Enberg as an unostentatious appealing Giullano; Dana Dewes who goes beyond her physical beauty with an emotionally passionate resonance; Lesley Fera as the naïve voluptuous Olympia; Robert Bailey as Piero/Leo, suave in both roles; Ian Lithgow as Oed, who throws CD discs that invariably hit their target in one of the physically incredible elements of the show.
The stunning set, centered by a colorful angel image from the apse of Santi Apostoli by Melozzo da Forli, is designed by Andrew Evashchen and costume designer Audrey Eisner is every bride’s delight.