BIG LOVE – Variety by Julio Martinez

Tuesday, October 29, 2002


By Charles L. Mee
Pacific Resident Theater presents
a play in one act by Charles L. Mee, directed by Mel Shapiro.

Lydia – Dana Dewes
Giullano – Alexander Enberg
Thyona – Katy Selverstone
Olympia – Lesley Fera
Bella/Eleanor – Diane Hurley
Piero/Leo – Robert Bailey
Constantine – Scot Conte
Nikos – Jason Huber
Oed – Ina Lithgow
With: Mercedes Martinez, Satiar Pourvasei, Carolyn Palmer, Scott Jackson

Pacific Resident Theater, long established as a venue willing to venture past the cutting edge, presents an explosive staging of Charles L. Mee’s maniacal tragicomedy “Big Love,” loosely based on Aeschylus’ “The Suppliant Women.” Impressively interweaving a mix of mayhem, passion, lust and social consciousness-raising rhetoric, helmer Mel Shapiro unleashes a sensual onslaught of competing agendas as a horde of Greek sisters seek sanctuary in an Italian villa to escape being force-mated to their ravenously nuptial-minded cousins. Tony Award-winner Shapiro has found capable and willing accomplices in a 13-member PRT ensemble that enthusiastically offer up mind and body in this volatile, thoroughly entertaining one-acter.

Mee turns the ancient story of fifty brides who rebel against their marriages to fifty grooms into a commedia-esque free-for-all, while underscoring Aeschylus’ meditation on the universal themes of justice and revenge, as well as such contemporary social issues as date rape, domestic abuse and gender inequality. Shapiro, aided by Andrew Evashchen’s simple but effective villa setting, creatively channels this battle of the sexes into a no-holds-barred theatrical feast.

Set in modern times, the action begins when three fleeing sisters in wedding gowns mistake the Italian villa of Piero (Robert Bailey) for a hotel and proceed to make themselves at home. The first bride, Lydia (Dana Dewes), no sooner arrives than she throws off her gown and steps naked into an awaiting bath. Quick to follow are sisters Thyona (Katy Selverstone) and Olympia (Lesley Fera). Once they realize their error they proceed to negotiate a promise of asylum from their dapper host, his gay son Giullano (Alexander Enberg) and ever-philosophical mother Bella (Diane Hurley).

Piero wavers from his promise when his villa is invaded by airborne grooms Constantine (Scott Conte), Nikos (Jason Huber) and Oed (Ian Lithgow), who have come via helicopter to claim their brides. The battle begins with Thyona and Constantine raging their opposing views at one another. Thyona promises the brides will hang themselves from the villa’s balcony rather than marry against their wills, punctuated by the sisters’ militant rendering of “You Don’t Own Me.” Constantine is equally adamant that the women have been contracted to marry and therefore the men do, indeed, own them.

The ensuing war of wills is hilariously realized as the ladies rage against their plight by literally pounding their bodies onto the floor (fortunately padded), spewing anti-male invectives. Later, the men take their turn on the mat as they physicalize their anger and frustration at this thwarting of their conjugal rights. The eventual resolution to this dance macabre is a bloody but spellbinding demonstration of just how dire the consequences can be when gender animosities remain unresolved and no balance of agendas can be found.

The performances are outstanding throughout. Particularly rewarding is Hurley’s captivating turn as Bella. A highlight of the production is Bella’s unique use of a basket of tomatoes as outrageous show-and-tell fodder while describing the virtues and sins of her many sons.

Sets, Andrew Evaschen; lights, Younwha Kong; costumes, Audrey Eisner; sound, Jonathan Burke; choreography, Nicholas Gunn. Opened and reviewed Oct. 26, 2002; closes Dec. 15. Running time: 90 MIN.

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