Strawdog Theatre Company presents BIG LOVE.
The love starts immediately. Walking into the theatre, I’m enchanted by the garlands hung all over the place (Scenic Designer Mike Mroch). Strings of light bulbs are intermingled with the flowers. A pianist is playing wedding tunes. The mood is ripe for some good lovin.’ Cue the bride…
Stacy Stoltz (Lydia) starts the procession. Stoltz begs a hilariously understated John Henry Roberts (Piero) for asylum for her and her 49 sisters. The ladies have run away to avoid being forced to marry their cousins. And here comes the brideS! A dozen brides arrive singing “You Don’t Own Me” and immediately strip off their gowns. Later, their sunglass-clad grooms arrive to “Highway from Hell.” Director Matt Hawkins knows how to make big entrances…and exits. In between, the antics are hilarious and unforgettable. The ongoing spectacle with a cast of 32 is all about big love!
Playwright Charles Mee based his 2000 play on Aeschylus’ “The Suppliants.” Mee goes big in his poetic style script. Characters get to rant or contemplate in big-sized orations. Mee also adds ‘house guests’ as extra characters that are superfluous. When I saw this show performed before, it was confusing and long-winded. Under Hawkins’ skillful direction, this story gets a much needed makeover. Hawkins interjects the music, the comedy, the aggression with perfect timing. He comes at the story from every possible angle. What is love? The male vs female sides are debated with equal intensity. My viewpoint is continuously swayed which is the biggest surprise to me.
Representing the genders, Stoltz, Michaela Petro (Thyona), Sara Goeden (Olympia), Shane Kenyon (Constantine), John Ferrick (Nikos), and Kyle Gibson (Oed) are persuasive. The arguments are presented with such conviction that I want what they want… each one of them. A fiery Petro deliciously annihilates anyone opposing her. So, of course, I’m on her side. And forced marriage is rape! Then, the sweet Goeden wants the romantic love that she has mused about all her life. (Her love conversation with Roberts is hysterical!) She loves love and who doesn’t? Stoltz’s needs are more complicated but personally I’m most aligned with her sensibilities. When Kenyon pushes his agenda, his ferocity scares the sh#t out of me. I know Petro can do better. Yet, a scene between Ferrick and Gibson, staged so cleverly by Hawkins, showcases Kenyon’s true vulnerability. Kenyon is commanding! So, I see his point about men being misunderstood. Ferrick charms with a wistful wooing of Stoltz and I’m charmed as well. And Kibson, oh, Ed, is just a cutie. Rapist?! As if. He and Goeden would be an adorable couple!
Hawkins makes this personal. He teases out our fears and desires about intimacy. He makes us question everything. What are we really looking for in a life partner? I may not know what love is but I do know BIG LOVE is awesome!
Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission
At Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway
Written by Charles L. Mee
Directed by Matt Hawkins
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 4pm
Thru May 25th
Buy Tickets at www.strawdog.org
Production photo by Chris Ocken