Big Love is Romance with a Twist (or Fifty)

By Colleen Scriven

Published: October 21, 2014

When audience members walked into the Whitman Theater this past week, they were asked to sit on either side of the stage instead of before it. Although the surreal, whimsical, playground-esqe set, designed by Emma Mendelson, was inherently theatrical, the seating itself was reminiscent of an intense sporting event, which as we all soon found out was perfectly appropriate. But the opposing teams couldn’t be divided by “home” or “away” because Charles L. Mee’s “Big Love” is really an all out battle of the sexes.

Mee’s play is basically a spirited, snarky retelling of the Greek drama “The Suppliants,” about fifty brides who attempt to escape their arranged marriages by hiding out in Italy. Add in helicopters, feminism, and misogyny, and a bloody good, rave-inspired wedding, and you have the modern version. The play is led by three sisters, who represent the fifty in the original. You have the combative Thyona, portrayed by an intense Stephanie King, and her opposite in Olympia, played by the very funny Nazli Sarpkaya. In between we are presented with the moral and emotional middle ground, Lydia, the charming Carolyn Coppedge. Their groomsmen range from the calculating, misogynist Constantine to the sensitive Nikos, with Oed—who treads the line of hunk and hulk depending on the situation—played by Richard McDonald, Matt Baguth, and Henry Ponthieu, respectively. All three actors inhabit their roles so full,y with a brutish grace and a separate synchronicity that almost gives their performance the air of a dangerous ballet. All of them—men and women—exhibit exhaustively physical performances with acrobatic energy.

The supporting cast, which alternately helps and hurts the brides, are all also worthy of mention specifically for their ability to tiptoe the line of chorus, humor, and even the macabre.

The real hallmark of this play is the quick dialogue, matched with the highly stylized lighting by Yi Zhao, music direction by Mark Bruckner, and fight choreography by Robert Tuftee—all of which are brought together by maestro-like precision of Mary Beth Easley. Moments in the production range from laugh-out loud-funny to transformative. Lines come out as throwaway quips or with the fervent resonance of war drums as the differences between men and women explode and whisper along razor thin lines. Easley’s playground is hell to visit, but inspiring to watch: where the boys and girls are armed with something far more dangerous than cooties.