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Big Love

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A few years ago, a then-new (and now no longer extant) local theater company premiered with a production of Big Love, a contemporary retooling and retelling of Aeschylus' The Suppliant Maidens, by Charles Mee. That production sticks with me for several reasons: It was the first and only time that my review and a review in a competing paper (as if!) started the same way: We both opened with the one-word sentence "Wow."

I also remember that production because I was so knocked out by its amazing, shimmering theatricality that I returned to see it again. At the end of that second performance, an audience member who had attended on the strength of my review and ended up hating it asked if I were prepared to refund her the price of her ticket.

Normally, the fact that a show is based on a play nearly three millennia old would keep me as far from the theater as possible. But when I saw that the University of Pittsburgh was staging its own production of Big Love, I jumped at the chance to revisit this work that I remember with such astonishment.

No offense to all involved in this Pitt production, and all the very hard work they've obviously put in to it, but it probably would have been better for me if I had allowed Big Love to live on in memory.

Fifty women, forced to marry 50 of their cousins, instead flee their native Greece and wash up at the beach home of an Italian magnate. They plead for refuge and then a bunch of stuff happens, most of which -- as befits a Greek dramatist -- isn't particularly pleasant.

With this and most of his other work, playwright Mee is all about deconstructing, reconstructing, exploding and exploring forms of drama -- in this case, a fragmentary trilogy. Pitt director Melissa Ryan Porterfield is of a similar mindset, so we end up with a deconstruction of a reconstruction of deconstruction of a portion of a 3,000-year-old script. The production is extremely disjointed, and in spite of all the gimmicks and theatrical gewgaws Porterfield conjures, the show feels surprisingly sparse. Most especially, this student cast cries out not for theatrical exploration, but rather good old-fashioned direction in terms of style and cohesion.

While there's probably much to be said about the academic provenance of this version, there's not a whole lot of entertainment going on.

 

Big Love continues through Sun., April 13. Stephen Foster Memorial, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-624-PLAY or www.pitt.edu/~play

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