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Big Love

An ensemble of lovely, lovely actors makes this updated Greek drama great fun

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Nov. 25, 2011

Runaway brides: Andreá Smith seeks refuge from Robert Matney.
Runaway brides: Andreá Smith seeks refuge from Robert Matney.
Photo courtesy of Kimberley Mead

Big Love

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
www.thelongcenter.org
Through Nov. 27
Running time: 1 hr., 40 min.

The remarkable premise of Big Love is that 50 brides have fled from their wedding to their 50 cousins. They've arrived at an Italian villa in their wedding dresses, desperate for asylum. Of course, that puts everybody in an awkward spot: the brides, the grooms, and their conflict-averse hosts. Apart from the innate humor in the story, which is adapted from the ancient Greek drama The Suppliants, the play delves into male and female identity, longing for love and happiness, and social responsibility.

Playwright Charles Mee is one of the greatest monologists of the American theatre. He writes eloquent speeches that drive deep into a character's innermost feelings and also into the political and social issues that those feelings illuminate. To fulfill the potential of his language, you need a group of actors with some serious chops. Shrewd Productions has fortunately cast its production of Big Love with a lovely, lovely group of actors who fit their parts well. Under the direction of Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires, the ensemble is so good that it's difficult to isolate just one or two performances, even though the monologue-filled nature of the play makes it a good showcase for individual talents. Instead, it's better to relish the sight of men and women in their wedding best flinging themselves onto the ground or to enjoy the sight of so many characters with conflicting intentions work their way through the story. Everyone onstage comes equipped with fascinating musings on how to get through this mortal life in the company of other human beings, and it's great fun to listen to them – or even to let all the words simply wash over you and watch the story float by.

The design team has also supplied work worthy of mention. Patrick Anthony's lights enhance the story, Ia Enstarä's set provides depth and levels that catch the eye, and Pamela Friday's costumes include, among other things, some rather nice wedding dresses.

As a critic, one has the privilege of picking up on trends and patterns in the work of local artists, and in the case of Faires' work as a director, his greatest skill is in gathering many minds and bringing them together in such a way that their work combines into a greater, cohesive whole. It's an enviable talent and one that I hope Austin will continue to enjoy for years to come.

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