“Big Love” takes a Greek tale about the lives of 50 women who are forced by contract to marry their 50 cousins. The women flee and seek refuge in a villa on the coast of Italy. The UMKC theatre is probably attempting a repeat of funny and anachronistic “The Comedy of Asses” from last year, but “Big Love” doesn’t achieve the balance of the previous show.
The three main wives, Thyona (Jessica Jensen), Lydia (Emily Phillips) and Olympia (Nicole Greenberg) flee and are taken in by Piero (Nick Papamihalakis) who walks around with a glass of red wine the whole show for some unknown reason. A relative of his, Guiliano, (Vincent Wagner) helps take care of the girls. They are chased by their would-be grooms Nikos (Spencer Christiensen), Constantine (Jamie DuFault) and Oed (Joseph Fournier). Completely random and pointless scenes ensue.
Honestly, it felt as if the show was playing a practical joke on its audience. It was discombobulating and disingenuous, but above all badly done. Audience members are left to scratch their heads and try to create some sort of meaning in a show that apparently has none. It is not a satire or absurdist theatre, as it is not funny or intelligent. Regardless of the program’s note on it being an ‘epic,’ it is not in any form. Charles Mee, the playwright, updated the language to be contemporary using modern references, but the dialogue is often awkwardly stilted. Many of the perspectives held by the characters do not even make sense from a modern point of view.
The leader of the women, Thyona, is set up as an extremist, and as the show begins she is positioned to seem overly aggressive and misandristic. However, once she actually initiates what she wants the conversation between the men and women to be about and how she wants things to turn out, she actually becomes a voice of reason in the play. She makes more sense than most of the other characters, yet is treated like an extremist by everyone in the show. The sheer sexism of some of the lines and characters is to be expected in a show set in Ancient Greece, but since this rendition is supposed to be modernized, it doesn’t feel as if the show is critiquing the presence of misogyny . It is just highly uncomfortable. Interestingly enough, the depictions of both of the genders are stereotypical and awful, acting as if all men as a group can be defined as one thing and all women as a group can be defined as another thing.
There are some brief blessed moments that give a glimpse of what the show could have been, but the interpersonal conflict that should have been the heart of the play is barely shown. The show also features one of the most disturbing, horrific and confusing theatre sequences of recent memory. It is difficult to tell whether it was the script or the direction. After being fraught with problems and inconsistencies, it proceeds to take out a sledgehammer and slam the show’s “message” over the audience’s heads at the very end. The last 15 minutes of the show try to create a conflict where there is very little time for the grand finish, leaving audience members restless.
The actors for the most part did what they could, but even they couldn’t save this clunker and one can feel their desperation. Some of the actors should receive a medal just for getting through some of the abominably bad dialogue. Credit should be given to Spencer Christiensen, Jamie Dufault and Vincent Wagner who really elevate the material as best they can. Wagner’s rendition of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” was probably the highlight of the entire evening, even though that again showed a lack of cohesion. His song was randomly thrown into the play with no explanation and no song later to even it out.
The play felt deflated with line cues dragging and continuously low energy. The attempts to mimic a Greek chorus end up with three women trying to shout over each other while throwing themselves onto the ground without good synchronization for an extended amount of time. The pacing of the entire show was awkward and unfortunately boring.
From the script to some extremely questionable directing choices, the show was uneven and painful. “Big Love” does not deserve the audience’s love.