Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
It’s titled Big Love and with good and well-apparent reason. Imagine fifty brides fleeing from fifty not-of-their-choosing grooms, seeking refuge in an Italian coastal villa and you have some idea of where the Big designation fits. So goes the first 2017 offering by the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre & Dance. It is beautiful, boisterous, fun, emotional, clever, and as playwright Charles Mee is quick to admit, not original.
Big Love is a modern remake of one of the oldest Greek plays – The Danaids by Aeschylus. But it’s more than that; it’s what director Janet Haley defines as a student-centric collaborative production, where students worked alongside her to craft both the choreography and combat used and to influence both the staging and design of this production.
As to the design, the stage is transformed into a vast marble palace that does resemble the hotel foyer into which Lydia (Layla Meillier) assumes she has stumbled dressed in wedding white and clutching a bouquet. She is ostensibly one of fifty sisters, and one of seven who appear to symbolize this sibling crowd. They have been promised to fifty cousins they neither know well nor like at all, and have no intention of carrying out these marriage vows.
Meillier and two others seem to symbolize the attitudes and personalities of these modern maidens who are nothing like the original passive and obedient daughters of Danaid. While Lydia is perhaps the most thoughtful and even keeled, her sister Thyona (Lindsey Briggs) is militant, angry, physical, and stridently insulted by the idea of being forced into anything, least of all a loveless marriage.
Then there’s Olympia (Currr’esha Beatty) who does revel a bit in her femininity and even likes the idea of being cared for by someone who may love her. Unfortunately she is also easily swayed.
Rounding out the symbolic host of sisters was the Bride Chorus: Alexis Harvey, Dominique Hinde, Michaela Nogaj, and Jordan Wetherell.
By the way, this is not a hotel as first thought, but the home of a suave and cordial Italian millionaire, Piero (George M. Marzonie). The gals pique his hospitality gene as they plead for asylum, but he can only agree to go so far.
Piero’s nephew, Guiliano (Britton Paige) offers help and entertainment to the gals even as his love focus develops before our eyes in curiously comic fashion. (Speaking of fashion, it was fun to watch his slowly evolve)
We were delighted to find director Haley in the role of Piero’s mother, Bella. Curiously wise, slightly caustic, and anxious to engage the gals, her characterization was an impressive highlight. In addition, this experience of playing opposite a professional like Haley had to be a really unique growth experience for these women especially, but for the whole cast as well.
It’s a modern version of this ancient tale, so it made sense when the grooms caught up with the gals via helicopter! Indeed, they were lowered down in jumpsuits from above and immediately began to take control of their women.
And, these fellows were well matched to their brides: Constantine (Kyle Clark) matched his vitriol and antagonism with Thyona’s while Oed (Joshua Cornea) lavished his gentle-giant strength on Olympia. Only Nikos (Matthew Statson) seemed to tread lightly as he began his courtship of Lydia.
The Groom Chorus also represented well consisting of Marcus Williams, Connor Klee, Gage Webster, and Jordan Kinney.
The gals do manage to extricate themselves – we won’t tell you how. Still, one of them finds love and companionship to the chagrin of the rest who realize too late that perhaps love really does conquer all.
Music fills this production, controlled and orchestrated as it is by the players, often comically but always appropriate to the mood. There’s dance, semi-slapstick, plate throwing, pop songs and all around good fun.
Big Love plays without intermission in a perfect 90 minute running time. It continues at UM-Flint Theatre through February 6, 2017. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance