’Big Love’ achieves small success

on’t be too creeped out by the dirt-stained 12-year-old who opens the play by walking onstage and staring you down in silence for four long minutes. She’s harmless, although she freaked me out when I went to see the College’s rendition of the play.

The play in question is Charles L. Mee’s quasi-comedic interpretation of Greek poet Aeschylus’ tragedy, The Suppliant Women. I say quasi-comedic because the moments of hysterical humor wonderfully drawn out of the script by the 18 College actors are offset by the play’s moments of preaching on the differences of the sexes and women’s matrimonial rights. Overall, the actors did a wonderful job with a script that teetered between comedically light and painfully dark and moralistic.

The premise of the play is the flight from Greece of 50 sisters from their 50 cousins, to whom they are contracted to marry. It begins with the arrival of three of the bedraggled sisters to a villa somewhere in Italy. The other 47 sisters are assumed to be in a boat anchored offshore. In a manner quite akin to that of the bears from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the three sisters represent a spectrum of femininity: Thyona, the ultra-feminist, male-hating sister is too hard; Olympia, the super-girly, slightly ditzy sister is too soft; and Lydia, the disillusioned-but-still-hoping-for-true-love sister is just right. The three types, as played by Meggie Nidever ’10, Bevin Blaber ’08 and Eva Flamm ’10, respectively, do a great job representing the diversity of these three very different feminine mindsets. Especially enjoyable was the comedic relief provided by Blaber’s portrayal of the materialistic and airheaded Olympia, as well as the sisters’ song and dance rendition of “You Don’t Own Me.”

Soon after arriving at the villa, the three sisters meet their hosts: the suave and don like Piero, played by Sidhant Mehra’10, his offbeat, Barbie-crazed brother Giuliano, played by Peter Drivas ’11, and their wise and matronly mother Bella, played by Lisa Sloan ’09. The girls’ attempt to negotiate their asylum with the family goes sour when their grooms arrive via helicopter fully dressed in their wedding garb under jump-suits. Like the sisters, the 50 cousins are represented by three vastly different male characters: the bumbling, talkative but endearing Nikos, played by Nathaniel Hewett ’11; the cruelly chauvinistic Constantine, played by T. Elliot Schrock ’11; and the robotically silent Oed, played by Mopati Morake ’11.

It is at this point in the play, when we assume negotiations are occurring between Piero and the cousins that the plot slows drastically and devolves into a series of either quite funny or awkwardly didactic vignettes. Such vignettes include the females whining about how hard it is to be a woman, the men complaining how hard it is to be a man (both scenes include a sort of choreographed self-flagellation) and the periodic comedic relief provided by Piero’s houseguests: the fun-loving Eleanor and her dapper, but often sour-looking lover, Leo.

The best parts of the play were easily the comedic moments as acted out by some of the funnier characters. Some of my personal favorites were the couple Eleanor and Leo, who were fairly reminiscent of Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch’s Professor and Virginia Klarvin (“Methinks ’twas the best love-making the world has ever known”), as well as the flamboyant Giuliano’s rendition of Rodger and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Some of the more funny instances, however, detracted from the more serious scenes concerning gender issues. In other words it seemed like the play was trying to tackle some big, although quite textbook issues, but the comedic interruptions made me feel something along the lines of, “Okay, I’m laughing really hard – but is it okay that I’m laughing?” An example of this was my favorite line from the play, when Constantine threatens Thyona into forced marriage by saying, “I will sew your legs to the bed and light you on fire.” As I am lacking in the Women’s and Gender Studies area I will opt out of trying to understand the serious implications for sexuality that this not-so-serious dialogue possesses.

The ending struck me as weird and unexpected. However, despite the extremity and goriness of the ending (I guess the play wasn’t a comedy after all), the script allows for some level of predictable happiness in love. I was left feeling pretty confused about the play’s motives but I did spend a good part of its duration laughing at the casts’ well-delivered antics.