The Hilberry Theatre has a new take on an old theme.
“Big Love,” the dark comedy by Charles L. Mee, is an unexpected but irresistible collage of modern and classical situations. Billed as a contemporary reimagining of “The Suppliant Women,” written around 470 B.C. by Aeschylus, this show deals with the big themes embraced by those 5th century B.C. theatre fans – freedom and democracy, love and hate, misogyny and misogamy, marriage and murder.
Yes, not much has changed in 2,500 years. And so Mee’s “Big Love” doesn’t have to stretch too hard to keep it relevant.
It’s the story of fifty Greek sisters who are being forced, by legal contract, to marry their fifty cousins. Taking their father’s boat, the brides seek a country that will offer them refuge. While 47 of the sisters remain on the boat, three make their way to an Italian villa, where they are eventually offered asylum. Their respite is brief. The grooms follow in pursuit, and the comedy takes a more sinister tone as the grooms' preoccupation with their legal rights leaves them oblivious to the women’s personal right to choose if and whom they will marry. With the women serving as their own chorus, and appealing directly to the audience, we watch as physical and philosophical battles over human rights abuses, gender politics, domestic violence, and, ultimately, love are waged on the Hilberry stage.
The comedy is amazingly physical – and the scenery includes a giant mat upon which actors perform a series of gymnastic stunts. (The cast deserves some sort of award – seriously, it’s worth the price of admission to watch them in action.)
In fact, everything about this production, which is directed by Blair Anderson, is highly stylized, with a scenic design that includes broken Doric columns and draped fabric that is used as a projection screen for thematic and expository graphics. Anderson explains, “The visual design [by Leazah Behrens]… is less about establishing traditional elements of time, period, or locale but rather the elements are used to somewhat playfully provide historical pastiche and assist in a montage of actions and emotions.”
Imaginative use of sound design (Samuel Byers) and original music by Bobby Delisle are integral to the mood of this production. The Hilberry production crew also includes Veronica Zahn (Stage Manager), Lyndee Hallahan (Asst. Stage Manager), Anne Suchyta (Costume Designer), Tom Schraeder (Lighting Design), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Max Amitin (Properties Master), Cheryl Turski (Movement Direction) and Patrick Pozezinski (Publicity Manager).
The play explores key gender archetypes, and how they face off in the battle of the sexes.
Thyona, played by Danielle Chochrane, is the fully liberated woman with an ax to grind against all men. When the Greek brides find that not their father, the law, nor their Italian hosts can protect them from a cruel fate, she is the one to hatch a violent plan to ensure their own liberation and revenge. She is promised in marriage to misogynistic Constantine, played with relish by David Sterritt, who espouses the theory that it’s a duty for husbands to abuse their women, so that they understand what the world is really like.
Olympia, played by Megan Barbour, is Thyona’s polar opposite. She likes men, likes playing the sex kitten, and is totally okay with being manipulated, as long as she’s taken care of. She is betrothed to Oed (Brandon Grantz), who is a big, strong, handsome man unencumbered by original ideas or deep thought.
In between, we find the voice of reason in Lydia, played by Sarah Hawkins Moan. She objects to the unjust nature of the grooms’ claim and the ridiculous law that binds them against their will – even while being attracted to her own suitor, the sensitive, romantic and considerate Nickos, played by Brent Griffith.
Rounding out the cast are Brandy Joe Plambeck, who plays both Piero (the Italian host) and Leo, an eccentric but amiable guest at the wedding party; Annie Keris, who plays Piero’s mamma, Bela, and wedding guest Eleanor; and Topher Payne as young Giuliano, who has his own take on romantic gay love.
Does love truly conquer all? Visit the Hilberry Theatre and this energetic cast to find out. “Big Love” runs through December 7, 2013, with shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available online, by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street.
And by the way -- happy Halloween.