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50 brides flee and comedy ensues

October 31, 2002|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Talk about big fat Greek weddings.

In Charles L. Mee's scintillating comedy "Big Love," 50 modern-day Greek brides are slated for family-arranged mass matrimony with 50 of their American cousins. But the young women rebel and flee to an Italian seaside villa, where they ask for sanctuary.

Mee didn't make up this wacky scenario. It's based on one of the earliest extant plays, Aeschylus' "The Suppliant Women," in which 50 women seek protection in Greece from their Egyptian would-be grooms.

But Mee transformed his musty inspiration (as well as musings from 11 other writers whom he credits in his script) into wildly funny reflections on love, men, women and contemporary society that are strewn throughout a woolly narrative that features music, dance, mass murder and redemption.

Mel Shapiro's staging for Pacific Resident Theatre seizes the intermission-less play by the throat and doesn't let go, unfurling a parade of passionate and intensely physical performances from a fully committed cast.

Fortunately Mee didn't try to tell all 50 of the women's stories. He focuses on three of the brides: the man-hating Thyona (Katy Selverstone), the man-appreciating Olympia (Lesley Fera) and Lydia (Dana Dewes), who is very ambivalent. Soon we meet their three intendeds: respectively, the machismo-imbued Constantine (Scott Conte), the enigmatic Oed (Ian Lithgow) and the would-be sensitive Nikos (Jason Huber).

They have landed on property owned by the suave Piero (Robert Bailey), who lives with his aged mother (Diane Hurley). Piero's gay nephew (Alexander Enberg) offers another perspective, as do two house guests (Hurley and Bailey).

Like Mee's "Wintertime," which premiered last summer at La Jolla Playhouse, "Big Love" blends a sense of classical rhetoric and a lush recorded musical score with extreme, over-the-top slapstick. The young brides and grooms fling themselves to the floor so violently that one wonders how long it will be before the understudies have to fill in.

Selverstone and Conte deliver especially fine-tuned rants, but the dithering in the less extreme roles is also hilarious, as are Enberg's languors and Hurley's suspenseful account of her old woman's dozen sons.

Andrew Evashchen's simple set, lighted by Younwha Kong, evokes Mediterranean pleasures, much as the whole play oozes a lusty delight in probing life's evergreen issues.


"Big Love"

Where: Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice.

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Ends: Dec. 15.

Price: $20-$23.50.

Contact: (310) 822-8392

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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