Also see John's review of The Wedding Singer
The New World School of the Arts' Music Theater Division opens their 2007-2008 season with Big Love by Charles Mee. Based on The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus, this dark comedy is a tale of the age-old battle of the sexes.
Fifty Greek sisters are betrothed by contract to marry their 50 American cousins in what is to be one mass wedding ceremony. In an explosive rebellion against their plight, the brides flee to Italy on the day of their wedding. They randomly seek sanctuary in the villa of a wealthy man named Piero. Piero, his mother and his son provide welcome for the sisters. However, he is understandably hesitant to risk all that he has against the impending arrival of 50 angry grooms in pursuit of their brides.
Three of the sisters named Lydia, Thyona and Olympia paint a passionate portrait of the disparity of the sexes. They are angered by gender inequality, societal expectation, familial pressure and the confines of marriage. They do not object to the individual men they have been assigned to marry, but that it is possible that their marriage is assigned to anyone. They conclude that any man who would be happy with this situation is a weak and unworthy person.
Led by Nikos, Constantine and Oed, the grooms arrive to claim their brides, unprepared for the animosity with which they are greeted. They are as frustrated as the women by their inability to understand and identify with the opposite sex. When the men attempt to enforce the marriage contracts, the woman feel that they have been dealt a huge injustice by a dysfunctional system. The outspoken Thyona determines that they must form and enforce their own laws to find the justice they seek. It is she who is most enraged by their situation, while some of her sisters are more suppliant. Thyona comes up with the horrific decision that all of the brides pledge to proceed with the wedding, and then murder their husbands on their wedding night.
As in any good Greek tragedy, the protagonist is undone by a character flaw. Thyona's plan is marred when one of the sisters falls in love with her husband and can not kill him. Thyona has somehow missed that she has replaced the controlling will of society with her own controlling will. She has pressured and bullied her sisters to chose what she would have them chose regardless of how strongly they agreed. The free will to chose without fear she would have no man take from her, she has taken from her own sisters. Her plans, despite the seeming validity of her intentions and logic, are foiled by the mercurial nature of love.
The set design for this production by Jeff Quinn is simplistic and effective. The doors and courtyard to the villa rest in front of a backdrop of male and female paper doll cut-outs. The tiny courtyard pool, all to obviously representing a vagina, becomes a point across which conflict is born. The costumes are tastefully done by Estella Vrancovich and on-stage changes are handled fairly discretely.
Director Gail Garrisan's staging of Big Love has first the women literally hurling themselves to the floor and about the stage, while spouting anti-male invectives. The equally frustrated men, full of raw emotion, later throw themselves about in the same manner. We get the point that they are physically expressing their internal conflict, however it becomes tiresome long before it is done. The well written dialogue begins to take a back seat to the choreographed tossing about, and at some point unintentionally ventures dangerously close to slapstick.
The scene content and acting delivery in this production are both sound; the cast works smoothly, cleaning up after and removing potentially messy props without any stop in the action. Beathany Pollack is sincere as Lydia, and David Hemphill is earnest as her betrothed, Nikos. David Sirois is suave as Piero. Meredith Bartmon as Piero's mother, Bella, is best in her opening speech about her sons, though her Italian accent needs work. Lindsey Forgey as Thyona capably plays the character's conflict rather than just her anger. Nicholas Duckardt as Constantine has a mature intelligence in his line delivery and a fire in his character that are a fine match to Ms. Forgey as his reluctant bride-to-be, Thyona.
Big Love will be appearing through October 21, 2007 in the Louise O' Gerritts Theater at the New World School of the Arts. The theatre is located at 25 NE 2nd Street, in Miami, FL. The New World School of the Arts was created by the Florida Legislature as a Center of Excellence in the visual and performing arts. It is an educational partnership of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami Dade College and the University of Florida. Through its partnership with the University of Florida, the New World School of the Arts is able to grant Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees. For more information on the New World School of the Arts, you may contact them by phone at 305/ 237-3541, online at www.mdc.edu/nwsa/.