Aeschylus is often described as the father of Greek tragedy. In his play The Suppliants, Danaids unveils the original tale of a King who tries to form political alliances by marrying his 50 daughters to their 50 cousins.
In Big Love, the latest production from Hub Theater in Fairfax, VA, playwright Charles Mee re-imagines the Danaids story into a modern day play about love that highlights politics and culture of today. This is an ambitious uninterrupted 90-minute epic battle of the sexes. While the feminist themes of equal standing, right of choice, and the right to love are at the forefront of Big Love, this play is not presented as a one-sided argument. Both the men and women passionately plea their points of view and personal desires. Each had moments where I sided with the other. It is in those fiery and provocative reveals where my compassion was most felt, and my inner girl-power cheerleader was unleashed.
Fifty Greek brides rebel against their arranged marriages to fifty grooms and escape, seeking refuge in a villa of the coast of Italy. Three of the fifty brides representing the head, heart and soul of Big Love are as believable as they are charismatic with their distinct individual and thematic portrayals. Sarah Douglas, is skillful and enchanting as the thoughtful and noble (Lydia), the laugh-a-minute Kristen Garaffo is a force and musical talent, as the naive and effervescent (Olympia), and the commanding Jessica Aimone excels as the vehement and defiant (Thyona).
David Zimmerman (Nikos), Josh Sticklin (Oed), and Michael Kevin Darnall (Constantine) play their male counterparts as the three groomsmen, who track the brides down, and go toe to toe with their demands and unwavering insistence for marriage.
There wasn’t a dishonest performance in the cast (including standout performances by Claire Carroll, David Bryan Jackson, Ocean Bianchi, and Chelsea Townsend). With a cast of this size with so much to do, that’s saying something. And, Big Love has so much to say.
Physically and emotionally exhausting, this is a raucous production where anything can happen….and it usually does. In addition to the drama, there is interpretive dance and tango, breakout solos of nostalgic pop songs, and several musical performances by S. Lewis Feemster (Giuliano) that are highlight delights. (Feemster’s tender, soulful take on the classic torch song, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is delicious, and his homage to the singer, song writer, musical genius Prince is priceless).
Then, there is the intensive athleticism – from body thrashing by the women, torepelling from a “helicopter” by the men. In another scene illuminating male bonding and the male viewpoint, there are pushups, football drills, and later two actors literally climbing the walls in a frenetic shared moment of angst and palatable frustration.
The brides make a pact, there is a major twist, an unexpected turn, and more singing… A few scenes feel long-winded and repetitive, but, I didn’t mind too much. I was entertained, humored, and on board for the ride. The story may be a massive, far-fetched, free for all; and, all of the ideas don’t translate cohesively, but you believe the commitment.
What I admire, is how far the actors go to push themselves, and succeed. The artistic choices are innovative and bold. The bravery of NY-based Director Kristen Kelly to tackle such a quirky and adventurous play with such vigor, passion, and gusto is admirable.
Susan Shields challenging choreography, and Casey Kaleba’s fueled fight choreography dazzle with many memorable moments. But to witness the extended mayhem of the wedding scene – so stylized, grandiose and surreal in it’s presentation – that I dare say, it is not only worth the ticket price itself – it’s a bargain.
There is so much magnificence going on stage (big props to Props Designer Suzanne Maloney), that everywhere you turn your head there is a separate, chaotic spectacle. It is a visual feast to behold. I still can’t stop thinking about it! The wedding song medley is a gift; the wedding massacre is to die for.
Love triumphs all.
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Big Love plays from July 13th to August 5th at The Hub Theatre – at the John Swazye Theatre – 9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, Virginia. Here are directions. Purchase tickets online.
Read the series Finding Big Love with Director Kristen Kelly. Go to the bottom of the article to read the entire series of articles.