Those who are familiar with the work of Charles Mee know his standard method of operation when it comes to playwriting. He is most well known for using scattered, absurdist imagery as he reconstructs ancient texts to create social commentaries on American society. Working with such a prestigious work, Scott T. Cummings’ production of Big Love was an ambitious decision—and though the Boston College Theatre Department has made a valiant attempt to live up to Mee’s imaginative wit, the effort ultimately fell short.
This is not to say that this production of Big Love had no positive qualities. It effectively embraced the absurd surrealism of Mee’s work—on numerous occasions, the themes of the play created an almost psychedelic environment. The production never shied away from any of the darker topics, whether it be forced marriage, rape, or the impressively designed murder scene in the back half of the play. Most importantly, Big Love presented a realistic spectrum of gender politics. If this was the goal of the show, then its mission was accomplished. If the goal was to viscerally entertain though, Big Love failed in that regard.
The negative side of Robsham’s latest production outweighed the good. Big Love’s stage management simply never came together to make the show feel cohesive. The props used throughout the night ranged from adequate to downright mood-breaking at certain points. At the very beginning of the show, Lydia–played by Noelle Scarlett, MCAS ‘18–climbs into a bathtub filled with what resembles bubble wrap and plastic—instead of water—generating laughter from the audience for the wrong reasons. Transitions between scenes were jarring at best, once again taking the audience out of the world of the play. The audience seemed more interested in the changing set pieces than the plot of the show. All the little things that should have brought the audience deeper and deeper into Mee’s story in some ways worked against the production.
In fact, the transitional difficulty of Big Love represented the larger issue of the production. A good show can transport you to another place, another time, to a whole other place of thinking. You forget you’re in a softly cushioned seat in a theater. But often in Big Love, and in more than just its sometimes roughly hewn transitions, you are never quite swept up in the world of the show.
Charles Mee’s playwriting represents some the best of American theater. But many of Big Love’s musical numbers never quite did the work they were meant to. The choreography was bland, and oftentimes rather repetitive. The musical stylings of “You Don’t Own Me” were enjoyable, but it was not enough to raise the entirety Big Love. Even forgetting the distasteful and offensive depiction of the LGBTQ community, Big Love more than often misses the intended mark.
Of interesting note was the directorial choice allowing actors numerous opportunities for a soliloquy. On a number of occasions, characters would face the audience and almost break the fourth wall, revealing their inner thoughts on the situation and gender politics as a whole. While this may have been the right choice for another production, it was not well used in Big Love. Revealing the opinions of a character in such a way is sometimes effective, but more often than not removes any suspension of disbelief. Emma Howe and Samuela Nematchoua, both MCAS ’18 (as Olympia and Thyona respectively) did an excellent job in their roles. Adriana Castanos, MCAS ’17, had a standout performance as well (most notably, her tomato scene, which was both humorous and well acted), bringing much needed comic relief to the play.
Overall, Big Love was an impressive attempt at producing a well-respected work. It was ambitious, but ambition alone couldn’t get Big Love off the ground.
Featured Images By Sarah Hodgens