Experimentation: Big Love takes big risks

Inspired by Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women— widely considered the oldest play in Western culture– Charles Mee’s Big Love follows 50 sisters who flee their planned, arranged marriages to 50 brothers and seek sanctuary at an Italian villa.
The UVA Drama Department offers this production as the last in its current season. If you saw the most recent Live Arts show, Mee’s Summer Evening in Des Moines, you’ve had a taste of this playwright’s quirky and incisive storytelling.
A hit of the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays, Big Love has only recently graced regional stages. Mee, whose theatrical works include Orestes and the Obie Award-winning Vienna, created Big Love as part of a dramatic trilogy examining romantic relations, the other two plays being First Love and True Love.
In this script, when the 50 sisters (played by three actresses–Stephanie Danna, Faith Hurley, and Heather Mayes) abandon the 50 brothers (played by three actors– Chris Cannon, Tyler Lassiter, and Ebenezer Quaye), the men follow them, demanding the mass wedding take place.
Their arguments and negotiations explore the range of emotions for both genders. “Big Love examines ancient themes of justice and revenge while also portraying a hilarious battle of the sexes,” says James Scales, publicity director for the Drama Department. “At the same time, it offers a delightful balance of humor, romance, and wild theatricality.”
In a rather unorthodox artistic turn, the show boasts two directors: Betsy Rudelich Tucker, who teaches acting and directing at the University, and Marianne Kubik, who joined the UVA drama faculty this year and heads the movement sequence for the MFA program.
Tucker has directed many shows locally for the UVA stage, for Live Arts, and recently for the Shenandoah Shakespeare Company. Kubik comes to the University from the University of Kansas, where she recently directed and choreographed an adaptation of Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
Both directors recognize the unusual challenges of such a production. “Mee’s script suggestions provide for– or rather insist upon– experimentation being at the forefront in the rehearsal process,” Kubik says.
Tucker believes the show requires a committed creative effort, demanding the expertise and imagination of everyone working on the production. “We call it Biiiiig Love,” she jokes.

Big Love plays April 10-12 and April 16-19 at the Culbreth Theater, 109 Culbreth Road. 8pm. $7-12. 924-3376.

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