Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Big Meal; A Tasty Treat

The Big Meal, is an ambitious and emotional telling of the life of Sam and Nicole – from first date, through their marriage and children.  It isn’t just the scope of the story that is so ambitious; it is the use of 4 talented couples that play the characters at various points in their life.  As each character matures, the responsibility for playing these character shifts to another talented actor.  And Sam and Nikki have a full life of parents, in-laws, children, and grandchildren, so the 
character flow is nearly constant.

Cameron Scoggins and Phoebe Strole
The Big Meal sounds confusing in this way, but it is not.  The actors are marvelous, switching roles easily, without the audience getting lost.  And it isn’t the use of big gimmicks that these characters transfer. There is no ruffled boa, or top hat.  But somehow the essence of each character is transferred simply and effectively.

The action, really tiny vignettes, is played out a in a series of restaurants – where the highlights of life occur.  Sometimes entire days or weeks are captured with just a line or two, before we move on to the next date.  

This is particularly true in the early part of the show, where Sam and Nicole are played as young people navigating the dating scene and introducing themselves – we see both who they are and what they are trying to project.  Cameron Scoggins and Phoebe Strole set the tone with these two people falling, cautiously, in love.  As the show progresses, the pieces grow to larger scenes – to accommodate the family we create and gather as Sam and Nicole become a couple, then a family.  As the adult Nicole, Jennifer Mudge anchors much of the action.  And, since children arrive and her mother-in-law drinks and her father-in-law tells racist jokes, a mooring place is needed.  Ms. Mudge is excellent in a terrific cast.  Anita Gillette is equally great, inhabiting the characters of several older women – each different from each other, but all with a solid family foundation.

The sharing of a meal can be humdrum and casual, but is also one of the last communal activities, particularly when taken outside of the home.  A meal is often where people gather and talk of the day.  It is where promises are made, lies come out, and positions are negotiated with in-laws.  It is relatable, everyone eats, and everyone has had the awkward, wonderful or hopeful meal. 

However, The Big Meal is a taunt 90 minutes, and there have to be some compromises.  So, the emotion depends on experiences of the audience for emotional impact.  An older father dies and a family loses a young child.  We care because everyone has lived through something like that.  These great actors, and by being able to transfer characters between them argue for the commonality of people.  It works, but it lessens the emotional impact when something happens to a particular character.  If you take a character from her 20s to her 90s, someone is going to pass on - actually quite a few people.  And the audience often does feel the impact.  But it is a short-hand impact; presentation, heartache and catharsis as we quickly move on to the next life changing event.
The cast of The Big Meal portraying three generations

It is an interesting piece written by Dan LeFranc, handled excellently by director Sam Gold.  Together with a cast up to the challenge, it is a meal that will stay with you long after you have left the theater.
The Big Meal at Playwrights Horizon
PlaywrightDan LeFranc
DirectorSam Gold
Cast: David Wilson Barnes, Griffin Birney, Tom Bloom, Anita Gillette, Jennifer Mudge, Rachel Resheff, Cameron Scroggins, Phoebe Strole, Molly Ward
Runs Through:

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