A review of "Big Love", a play by Charles L. Mee

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It was a chilly evening that I found myself in as I covered the distance to the auditorium. I had a ticket to "Big Love", a play written by Charles L. Mee, clasped in my icy hand and many thoughts as to what I was getting myself into stewing in my brain. I walked into the theater, took my seat, and prepared to find out.

What ensued was a raucous, sometimes hilarious, sometimes very intense and serious, performance. As I walked home later and thought about the plot of this play and the questions that were put before me, I began to make some interesting conclusions about it. It was a play about 50 sisters who have been betrothed to 50 of their cousins and their development of deeply rooted feelings about the opposite sex and what it means to be married. Two characters stuck out, in particular, as ones who really epitomized the differences in beliefs that these men and women have in this regard.

The first is the character of Thyona who is the most righteous and most defiant of the three sisters that the majority of the play is centered on. She is a strong woman. She believes that men should vie for a woman’s love and attention but only if these feelings are shared by both the man and the women should the idea of marriage be entertained. In other words, Thyona will not be told how to feel and what to do and if a man tries to do this, she does not need a man.

But how are her views explained theatrically? First of all, the theatrical prowess of the actress that allows her to play a woman as defiant as Thyona is a key to the explanation. As Oscar Gross Brockett says in his work "The Essential Theatre", “…the actors must be able to project themselves imaginatively into the world of the play, the specific situations, and their individual character’s feelings and motivations.” The actress who played Thyona knows those motivations and by knowing when to stress her dialogue, when to shout, when to cry, when to be defiant, she expresses them well.

Set Design is another key to the expression. The sets and props used were essential. One example is an instance in which Thyona and her sisters were expressing their distaste for men telling them what to do and how to feel and were hollering and cursing those controlling fellows as they beat the stuffing out of little puppets that were lowered from the ceiling. It was a very effective and obvious way of getting the views across with the use of props.

The second is the character of Constantine. Like Thyona, Constantine has a strong will and a desire to make his beliefs heard and heeded. As a man betrothed, he not only accepts his role but sees his betrothal as his natural right and sees the woman as his to have.

In one of the most stirring and powerful moments of the performance, Constantine delivers a monologue in which he lays out the need that women have for men. He holds fast that a man is there to show to a woman the pain of this world, the ones that he as a man must endure. This pain, which comes from such things as going to war, is one that a woman does not know and one that Constantine believes is essential for a true appreciation of life for it makes good things that much sweeter.

As he delivers this monologue, it again seems relevant to say that, much like the actress who played Thyona, the actor who plays Constantine’s ability to characterize such strong, arguably unjust beliefs as the ones that were mentioned above, and combine that with powerful, defiant stage movement is very important. The performer as Constantine confidently strode from one end of the stage to the other delivering his monologue with such incredible vigor, sometimes yelling, sometimes seeming to be on the verge of breakdown, that I, by observing his performance, believed he meant every word of it, even his justification of beating women to show them pain.

To set the scene for that monologue, as a way to counteract the dominant humorous qualities up to that point and of illustrating the intensity of Constantine’s words, a special lighting design was utilized. Specifically, the house lights were turned down with a strong spotlight shining through the darkness, following Constantine’s every move. This was no soft, soothing light. It was a harsh, almost ominous, contrast which perhaps was to underscore that same contrast between Constantine and the women of the story’s views.

It was interesting to see the theatric elements that are used when there are expressions that need to be made. Big Love was a good example of the different types of those that can be utilized and instills in me a desire for more plays to use them this masterfully.

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