By Charles L. Mee
at Pacific Resident Theatre
Reviewed By Hoyt Hilsman
Oct 30, 2002
Charles L. Mee’s freewheeling adaptation of Aeschylus’ tragedy The Suppliant Maidens gets a rollicking sendup from director Mel Shapiro and a skilled ensemble. Mee, who has spent much of his career as a historian, brings an absurdist spin to Aeschylus’ little-produced play, deconstructing it from tragedy to comedy and adding his own darkly cartoonish view of human nature. The premise is an explosion of a bad romantic comedy movie pitch: Instead of a bride leaving her groom at the altar, 50 brides from Greece escape to Italy, leaving 50 bridegrooms in the lurch. The men, of course, come looking for them and find them ensconced in the home of Piero (Robert Bailey), an Italian paterfamilias by way of The Sopranos, and his wife, Bella (Diane Hurley), who is the Italian mama writ large, like everyone else in Mee’s play.
Of course the modern stage can’t accommodate 50 brides and bridegrooms, so the featured brides are Lydia (Dana Dewes), the doe-eyed sweetheart of Nikos (Jason Huber), who can barely contain his love for her; Olympia (Lesley Fera), the Greek version of a bimbo, who is stuck with Oed (Ian Lithgow), and most thunderingly Thyona (Katy Selverstone), whose life is an unending rant against men and who is somehow promised to Constantine (Scott Conte), a boorish yet philosophical misogynist. While Lydia and Olympia are wavering in their determination to avoid marriage, Thyona is unbending and hatches the plan to marry the men, then murder them on their wedding night.
The most intriguing aspect of the play is Mee’s deconstruction of Aeschylus-in essence he is repackaging the ancient Greek tragedy as an absurdist comedy. This may be as much a comment on post-modern America, where tragedy becomes absurd, as on ancient Greece. What is lost, of course, is any of the subtlety and pathos of the piece. Shapiro is in fine form here, teasing a kind of deadpan hilarity and earnestness from the cast and the production. He understands the intent and strategy of the piece: to explode the war between the sexes using weapons of mass destruction. A bride and groom feuding before a wedding is amusing, while 50 brides and grooms feuding is ridiculous and demonstrates the absurdity of human emotions.
The actors literally throw themselves into these roles, at one point slamming themselves repeatedly to the (padded) stage. Dewes is both soft and engaging as the heroine, while Selverstone is wonderfully manic in her violent feminism. Hurley is captivating in dual roles as the Italian mamma and a flighty socialite, Huber does a terrific physical turn as Lydia’s suitor, and Conte is wickedly powerful as the macho Constantine. Alexander Enberg also has several fine moments as the gay son of Bella and Piero. Sets by Andrew Evashchen and costumes by Audrey Eisner are sharp and alluring.
“Big Love,” presented by and at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Oct. 19-Dec. 15. $20-23.50. (310) 822-8392.