Monday, March 5, 2012

The Big Meal

It’s shows like The Big Meal that make me (a) proud to subscribe to off-Broadway, playwright-fostering houses (like Playwrights Horizons, home to this production) and (b) hopeful that theatre and other creative arts won’t soon be completely overtaken by too-safe and artistically bereft ventures.

This funny and poignant generational play by Dan LeFranc centers on a couple from the first time they meet and on through their life. Lovers, great-grandparents, children and other family members come and go, and at the end we are left with this overwhelming but hopeful sense that the circle of life is never ending and that our families continue to grow even as certain members leave.

I’m finding it difficult to sufficiently describe the play, particularly the significance and power of the title, without giving away too much. You know, dear readers, that most of the time I encourage organic discovery in theatre, rather than going into a show knowing every single plot point.

So, I’ll leave it at that and instead focus on the production elements, beginning with the effective, efficient and extraordinary direction of the appropriately in-demand Sam Gold. Known for his pacing, Gold (Seminar, Circle Mirror Transformation) continues to flex that muscle in The Big Meal. From the beginning moments that are frenetic and maybe a little disorienting to absolutely still, somber moments, this man knows timing.

And he also knows a thing or two about design. In a post-show discussion, I learned that when Gold first met with his scenic designer, David Zinn (who also designed the play’s costumes), he described his vision for the sparse set as “a restaurant version of Charlie Rose.” That is to say he liked the idea of having a mostly blank set, so the characters sitting at one of the tables (everything is set in a restaurant) appeared to be in a void, creating an intense focus on the words and actions (or inactions, as the case may be). (Mark Barton and Leah Gelpe aide Gold and Zinn in telling the story with their powerful and specific lighting and sound designs, respectively.)

A good, meaty script is great and expert direction is essential, but it’s just words on a page (or stage) without a terrific ensemble of actors to bring it to life. In looking forward to seeing The Big Meal, I was excited to see the exceptional David Wilson Barnes (Becky Shaw, All New People, Welcome Home Dean Charbonneau) and the feisty Phoebe Strole (The Metal Children, Spring Awakening). They did not disappoint, and were joined by veterans and newcomers: Griffin Birney, Tom Bloom, Anita Gillette, Jennifer Mudge (she was the first person cast, and director Gold “built” the family around her), Rachel Resheff, Cameron Scoggins and Molly Ward. Scoggins, making his off-Broadway debut, stood out, in particular, for his natural delivery.

The Big Meal is one of those serendipitous finds. It’s touching and true to life, and I think I may go back for seconds!


To learn more about The Big Meal and to purchase tickets, visit playwrightshorizons.org. The play runs through April 22.

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