Despite the deluge of afternoon rain that kept most Brandeis students and others inside on Saturday, Oct. 22, a crowd of about 100 braved the weather to see the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts’ thoroughly entertaining production of Charles L. Mee’s play “Big Love,” directed by Rebecca Bradshaw. The production was held in the Laurie Theater of Spingold from Oct. 20-23 and drew sizable audiences for each of its showings.
The show’s beginning was just as jarring as its end, starting off with a chilling, classical piece that ushered in Lydia (Talia Bornstein ’19), one of 50 runaway brides from Greece. She enters the scene donned in a tattered wedding dress, fatigued yet relieved, and falls into the sand that makes up the floor of the set. Lydia, along with her 49 other sisters including Olympia (Lynnea Harding ’19) and Thyona (Kate Kesselman ’19), have just sailed to Italy in search of asylum from their contractual marriages to their 50 cousins that had been arranged by their father.
But Mee’s play isn’t simply a tale of 50 brides abandoning their respective grooms at the altar; it engages love, consent, gender, refugees, loyalty and violence, among other themes. The story is a modernized rendition of Aeschylus’ “The Suppliant Women,” creating a unique fusion of heavy, philosophical monologues characteristic of ancient Greek playwrights with a sprinkling of references to modern happenings and culture. Although a bit difficult to overcome at first, the time-warp-esque quality of the production raises an intriguing prospect: Although the play is derived from ancient Greek mythology, the concerns and issues raised in it are still very much relevant to the present.
Not long after the ship carrying the 50 brides docks at the Italian estate of Giuliano (Josh Rubenstein ’19), his uncle, Piero (Joseph Tinianow ’17), Piero’s mother, Bella (Sarah Steiker ’17) and three of the 50 grooms enter the scene via helicopter with unparalleled style: Nikos (Matt Hoisch ’19), Constantine (Rodrigo Alfaro Garcia Granados ’18) and Oed (Ben LoCascio ’20). It becomes immediately clear that the brides and grooms are paired with their respective foils: Thyona, a strong-willed, vitriolic critic of men, is arranged to marry Constantine, a raging misogynist; Olympia, a talkative, happy-go-lucky woman, finds herself at the altar with Oed, a character who remains silent for most of the play.
However, this pattern is disrupted with the pairing of Lydia and Nikos, who, perhaps unfortunately, discover the innate chemistry between them amid the forces pulling them closer to and pushing them away from one another. Vengeful Thyona tries to rally her sisters to kill the men they are being forced to marry, while Constantine asserts, “I’ll have my bride. If I have to have her arms tied behind her back and dragged to me, I’ll have her back.” Though they are offered guidance from comic relief duo Eleanor (YiQuian (Alex) Wu ’19) and Leo (Riely Allen ’18), Nikos and Lydia try to resist the different pressures of the people around them and listen to their own hearts instead.
As the conflict piles up around the two, the audience is engaged with a variety of unsettling questions. Although Lydia and Nikos are forced to marry, does their love for one another trump the premise of their relationship? Should Lydia stand with her sisters in defiance of the forced marriages, or should she follow her desire to be with Nikos?
At the end of the story, these questions remain unresolved. Even as Nikos and Lydia stand side-by-side as a wedded couple with fireworks blowing up behind them in celebration, they stare ahead with unmistakeable terror, concluding the play with a poignant scene of anxiety and uncertainty. The audience is appointed the task of untangling the complicated dynamics and situations between the characters, a burden that persists long after the bows and applause have faded away.
“Big Love” was as entertaining as it was captivating, from its juxtaposition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major against The Temptations’ “My Girl,” to the trios of sisters and their respective fiancés offering scenes of cathartic shouting and sand-throwing. The performances of the actors in the show were outstanding as well, especially those of Bornstein, Harding, Wu and Hoisch. With the superb production staff supporting the backbones of this complex narrative, the brilliant casting of the show and Bradshaw’s unique vision, “Big Love” cements itself as a lasting memory of the best of Brandeis theater.