By: Sally Henry
Those who may question the relevance of ancient Greek plays in 2014 would do well to look to The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s production of Charles Mee’s play, Big Love. Bringing a modern twist to Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, Big Love asks “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” With that premise in mind, directors Karla Koskinen and Rebecca Harper generated a hilarious evening of theatre with incredible choreography.
Mee certainly has a firm grasp on modern comedy. He managed to create a world that was oddly old-fashioned in some ways (three women being forced to marry men they did not love), but with language that seemed to fit the era he was adapting. Indeed, the almost Shakespearean monologues drew a sharp contrast to the very 21st-century expletives that proliferated throughout the script. Though on paper, the idea of combining the two styles sounds ridiculous, he constructed an enjoyable, complex piece. Who cares if this combination made the plot seem implausible? It was just entertaining.
Unfortunately, a good many lines were lost as the actors failed to pause when the audience erupted in laughter. Even so, there were still plenty of hilarious moments which were not drowned out.
The simplistic set, designed by Cliff Simon, reinforced the Greek theatre theme with its tall tiered platform. It allowed multifaceted staging without necessitating a distracting scene change.
Alora King endeared herself to the audience immediately as Lydia, and as she went through conflicting decisions, she connected to the audience and dared them not to care- an impossible task. Julia Spring took on the most entertaining, consistent facial expressions as the hopeless romantic Olympia, and Renita Lewis, Thyona, put everyone else to shame with her amazing execution of Jones Welsh’s choreography.
Though I would be entertained seeing Russell E. Alexander, Guilliano, in a one-man show, I wish the directors had reeled in his outrageous background antics. They were very funny, as well as very distracting and more often than not upstaged the already complicated and erratic action of the play.
It was impossible to ignore the screams and cat calls that ensued when Calvin Nielsen and Kyle Hulcher ripped off their shirts and proceeded to perform an ingenious fight-dance as the frustrated Constantine and Nikos, respectively. Nielsen embodied the extreme alpha-male in every way, starting with his confident, firm stance, clenching his fists and furrowing his brow. His intense delivery gave his chauvinistic monologues powerful shock value, moving the audience past indignation into fear.
Hulcher embodied the boy next door with his first shy, yet genuine manner, which slowly but surely became confidence. His and King’s sweet chemistry was simply undeniable. It was impossible not to adore their courtship as they hesitantly started to realize and eventually embraced their love for one another.
Rebecca Harper was ingeniously comedic as Bella, the old mother, and Eleanor, the crazy party guest. She hunched her back and hobbled so distinctly as Bella that she was hardly recognizable when she entered as the free-flowing Eleanor.
And let me just say how amazing the mesmerizing choreography of the energetic Grecian dances was. On what was most certainly a sprung floor, the actors threw themselves down and jumped right back up and over each other in a very ancient Grecian manner. And they just kept going. Jones Welsh of the Diavolo Dance Theatre came in as a guest artist to be the movement director and not only was his choreography intricate and detailed but he tailored distinctive Grecian movements to all of the main characters. The movements were almost acrobatic and absolutely astounded the audience, who had no choice but to explode with applause on multiple occasions.
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