May 7, 2001
ACT's 'Big Love' is a wild romp into battle of the sexes
by Deborah Stone
A Contemporary Theatre's 2001 mainstage season recently opened with the Northwest premiere of Charles L. Mee's wild battle of the sexes, "Big Love."
Mee explores love, gender and humanity in this ingenious adaptation of Aeschylus' "Suppliant Women" (a Greek drama), as he retells the story of 50 Greek brides who rebel against a mass, forced marriage to 50 grooms (their cousins) at a villa on the coast of present-day Italy.
The brides resolve to murder their grooms on their wedding night, with the reception climaxing in a chaotic spectacle that eventually allows for the characters to experience a deep catharsis of the strong emotions that dictate their actions.
The show concludes on a note of hope and understanding with the desire to rebuild and work towards harmonious relationships.
"Big Love" is full of extreme theatrics, great comedic moments and much physicality (scenes of plate smashing, body banging and rough tussling) making it a highly entertaining night for adult theatergoers (the show contains some nudity and is not appropriate for children).
On the flip side, it gives audiences food for thought with the controversial issues it raises concerning gender relations, the plight of international refugees, the question of political asylum, genocide and the position of isolation versus involvement in international crises.
These issues still remain hotly contested 2,000 plus years later after the original play was written, making it well suited for contemporary culture.
A cast of 12 brings "Big Love" to life, with especially strong performances by the three unwilling brides (pensive Lydia, giggling Olympia and outspoken Thyona, played by Hope Chernov, Kirsten Potter and Danielle Skraastad respectively).
Their male counterparts include romantic Nikos (Michael Blakkensen) macho, insensitive Constantine (C.J. Wilson) and unintellectual hunk Oed (Jeremy Shaw).
Special recognition should be given to Judith Roberts who does wonderful work as an elderly, advice-dispensing Italian mother of 13 sons and also as an elegant guest who purports love wherever she goes.
Director Brian Kulick squeezes every theatrical ounce from his actors, demanding peak emotionality and raw physicality, and they rise to the opportunity to meet his expectations and those of Mee's play.
One of the main stars of the show, however, is Walt Spangler's amazing set, with its large ice blue plastic mat, working hot tub, magical walls that appear and disappear and a host of other creative devices that allow for spectacular, eye-popping staging.
This is a high-energy production that takes the audience on a wild ride, never letting up until the final scene, when it waxes philosophical and tends towards sentimentality.
"Big Love" runs through May 20, followed by Pulitzer Prizewinner "Dinner with Friends" by Donald Marguilies (opening June 7th). For ticket information call (206) 292-7676.