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The Hub Theatre Big Love

By • Jul 16th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Big Love by Charles L. Mee
The Hub Theatre
John Swayze Theatre, Fairfax VA
Through August 5th
95 minutes, no intermission
$25/$15 Students and Seniors
Reviewed July 13th, 2012

There’s comedy. There’s tragedy. There’s romance. There’s even a piquant mix of poetry, politics, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. All in about an hour and a half.

Charles L. Mee’s fascinating play Big Love was a sensation at the 2000 Actors Theater of Louisville new plays festival. It went on to an enthusiastic reception off-Broadway. Then — despite its multiple technical and artistic complications — it proceeded to challenge regional theater actors and audiences. And now other theaters are stepping up to the show’s alluring and daunting intricacies. One such company is the Hub Theatre in Fairfax, where Big Love is currently playing.

Director Kirsten Kelly’s show is always intriguing and sometimes thrilling.

Playwright Mee is fascinated by the eternal verities and dramatic vitality inherent in the oldest of western culture’s plays. His works include a half dozen pieces inspired by 5th Century BC Greek drama. Big Love is a riff on Aeschylus’ mega hit of the year 466 The Suppliant Maidens.

The ancient myth that provides the play’s basis involves 50 girls who were promised by their father, a king, as brides to a neighboring king’s 50 sons. (It’s just a story, people. Yes, fathering 50 daughters or 50 sons is preposterous. The myth qualifies for tall tale status.) As a political maneuver, aimed at forging a really, really strong alliance, the multiple marriages seemed like a great idea. The daughters in the case, however, are not enthusiastic — nay, they are hostile when it comes to a life sentence as diplomatic pawns. So they sail across the Adriatic to Italy. They seek asylum in the vast home of the first rich guy they come upon. He is not eager to house a hoard of immigrants, nor is he attracted by an imposed role as savior of the weak and enemy of the powerful.

The complex situation and the vivid characters make for effective comedy. The explosive emotions created by coercion lead to tragedy. A boy-meets-girl development leads to, you guessed it, romance. And Mee’s insightful mind and beautiful writing take care to the poetry, politics, psychology, anthropology and philosophy.

Mee neatly creates three contrasting women’s roles to represent the hoard of sisters. Three well-designed men’s roles stand in for the 50 brothers. Director Kirsten Kelly has recruited some very skillful performers to exemplify various versions of girls vs. boys. Sarah Douglas, Jessica Aimone and Kristen Garaffo play the sisters — ambivalent, rageaholic and bimbo, respectively. David Zimmerman, Josh Sticklin and Michael Kevin Darnall are the brothers — ambivalent critical thinker, dissolute lout and aggressive macho man, respectively.

Darnall does an excellent job with a speech that crystalizes a psychological contradiction underlying Big Love. With a sometimes touching, sometimes scary mix of pathos and fury he describes the mixed message embedded in the masculine mystic. Violence and savagery are praised when the homeland is attacked or when it choses to attack foreign lands. Kindness and civility are prized and social graces are rewarded in times of peace.

All three men enact a fantastic ritual representing the ordeal of being male. They become both the drill sergeants and the recruits, going through the paces of everything from little league anxiety to the antics of adult virility. The emotional spectrum ranges from bonding to battling. The sweaty scene (so many pushups, so little time!) is a perfect example of the drama dictum “Don’t just tell it; show it.”

S. Lewis Feemster plays an androgynous Italian with a to-die-for collection of Barbie and Ken dolls. Feemster also does a nice job singing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” accompanying himself on a tinkly toy piano. Claire Carroll and David Bryan Jackson represent the temporizing denials, rationalizations and compromises of mature adult adjustment to life in the real world. It sounds grim, but Carroll and Jackson bring it all off with droll cynicism. Things don’t work so well for Carroll in another role that she plays — the stereotypical Italian mother. Though the part includes some of Mee’s best writing, Carroll smothers it all with an overwrought Italian accent.

Dance moves designed by Susan Shields add luster to the show as does fight choreography by Casey Kaleba. The multiple musical highlights are provided by Carla Gerdes and Michael Gerdes. Their selections are funny and eloquent, ranging from Philly girl group doo wop (“You Don’t Own Me,” of course) to the greatest hits of J.S. Bach and Janice Joplin.

Photo Gallery

Kristen Garaffo Jessica Aimone, Michael Kevin Darnall, Sarah Douglas, Josh Sticklin (in back), Kristen Garaffo
Kristen Garaffo
Jessica Aimone, Michael Kevin Darnall, Sarah Douglas, Josh Sticklin (in back), Kristen Garaffo
Kristen Garaffo, S. Lewis Feemster David Zimmerman, Josh Sticklin, Michael Kevin Darnall
Kristen Garaffo, S. Lewis Feemster
David Zimmerman, Josh Sticklin, Michael Kevin Darnall
Kristen Garaffo, Sarah Douglas, Jessica Aimone David Zimmerman, Sarah Douglas
Kristen Garaffo, Sarah Douglas, Jessica Aimone
David Zimmerman, Sarah Douglas

Photos by Melissa Blackall Photography

Cast

  • Lydia: Sarah Douglas
  • Olympia: Kristen Garaffo
  • Thyona: Jessica Aimone
  • Bella/Eleanor: Claire Carroll
  • Piero/Leo: David Bryan Jackson
  • Giuliano: S. Lewis Feemster
  • Constantine: Michael Kevin Darnall
  • Oed: Josh Sticklin
  • Nikos: David Zimmerman
  • Fiddle Player: Genna Davidson
  • Ensemble: Ocean Bianchi, Chelsea Townsend

Crew

  • Director: Kirsten Kelly
  • Scenic Design: Natsu Onoda Power
  • Costume Design: Deborah Sivigny
  • Lighting Design: Joel Moritz
  • Sound Design/Composer: Matthew Nielson
  • Props Design: Suzanne Maloney
  • Choreography: Susan Shields
  • Fight Choreography: Kasey Kaleba
  • Assistant Director: Matt Bassett
  • Technical Director: Jameson Shroyer
  • Stage Manager: Daniel Mori
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Krage
  • Music Directors: Carla Gerdes & Michael Gerdes

Disclaimer: The Hub Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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  1. Several typos and mistakes have been corrected from the initial version of this article. We apologize for our errors.