THE SOHO REVIEWS: "Big Love" at the Pershing Square Signature Center
Big Love is a gorgeous mess, an adaptation by Charles Mee of what is considered the oldest play in Western culture, Aeschylus’s The Danaids. He has taken the source material, expanded, yet efficiently reduced it, adding material from other sources and spun it into a wise, funny, sad contemporary force of nature.
In the original play, fifty brides abandon their arranged grooms and run off. Financial restraints and artistic license have caused Aeschylus’s original fifty brides to be reduced to three: sensual Lydia (Rebecca Naomi Jones), hot head Thyona (Stacey Sargeant) and (seemingly) sweet Olympia (Libby Winters) who invade an Italian villa paradise owned by Piero (Christopher Innvar) whose wise mother Bella (Lynn Cohen) and not-at-all-closeted son Giuliano (Preston Sadler) are forced to care for these errant ladies and, eventually, their grooms who literally drop in to see them. Add to this cast of colorful characters Eleanor (Ellen Harvey) and Leo (Nathaniel Stampley), a couple who act as a zesty den mother and father of the villa, inadvertently catalyzing the characters into a frenzied, violent and sexy ending.
After parachuting onto the island the three grooms try to insinuate themselves back into the good graces of their intendeds, using every means at their youthful disposal to woo them. Nikos (Bobby Steggert) is Lydia’s boyishly ardent swain. Oed (Emmanuel Brown) is Olympia’s acrobatic fiancé, and Constantine (Ryan-James Hatanaka) is Thyona’s dreamboat boy. Two of them will not get what they want.
The women, led by Thyona, absconded because they objected to their arranged marriages which they felt treated them as chattel. Mr. Mee takes them—and metaphorically, the missing forty-seven—from unintended migrants unhappily re-telling the events leading to their defections to incensed females spouting peeved rhetoric to a mob of three committing outright violent rebellion in a climax of surprisingly bloody cruelty.
Brett J. Banakis’s set was a lovely evocation of a Mediterranean paradise, that, with the aid of Scott Zielinski’s bright, but subtle, lighting was both inviting and cold. Video projections of flowers, waves and vistas add color and specificity. Anita Yavich’s costumes were an amalgam of contemporary beach casual, abused wedding gowns, parachutist gear and beachwear.
Tina Landau’s inciteful direction kept the play flowing along, allowing the actors, all of them excellent, to make gutsy choices. She used the entire playing area, which often included having the cast race headlong into the audience. Best of equals amongst these actors was Lynn Cohen as the level-headed matriarch, Bella whose wise and measured pronouncements somehow stilled the torrents of emotion that overwhelmed the denouement of Big Love.
Big Love – through March 15, 2015
Irene Diamond Stage
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd St., just East of 10th Avenue
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-244-7529 or www.signaturetheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission