Photo by Ed Cunicelli
Big Love by The Westtown School in West Chester, PA
October 31st, 2017
Review submitted by Victoria Kline of Academy of the New Church
What is love? How can we reconcile freedom and compromise? How can we keep up when life comes at us so quickly? These are questions that Westtown School’s production of Big Love promises to answer.
While Big Love is based on an Ancient Greek script titled “The Suppliants”, its writer Charles L. Mee proves that issues of the past are still relevant today. Big Love‘s plot revolves around fifty brides who have left their homeland of Greece to escape an arranged marriage, but little do they know that their oppressors are hot in pursuit. A Romeo and Juliet-style battle of the sexes, this post-modern play tackles modern controversies while still presenting timeless themes of freedom, love, and compromise.
Among the brides, three stood out for their strong performances: Cleo Kelleher as Thyona, a fiery feminist determined to stand up for her freedom; Nimmi Kota as passionate Olympia, searching for sweet love; and Maggie Lind as Lydia, thoughtful and upstanding. Each bride played her part with incredible emotion and insight.
On the other side of the divide were the cousins of the brides, who were their fiancés, and their unshakable oppressors. Leading this ensemble was the furious Constantine, played by Isaiah Fernandez. Fernandez managed to exude intensity and anger while still showing his character’s humanity, making clear his motive and reasoning. Tray Hammond played Nikos, engaged to marry Lydia, his tenderness and passion a dramatic contrast to Constantine’s hatred.
Backing the emotive cast was an incredibly intricate set. A peaceful villa sat among the mountainsides of Italy, illustrated through rocks giving the illusion of floating. Music was added in a variety of ways: drummers played in the wings, a guitarist sang from above the stage, and the cast themselves performed musical numbers. The actor and actresses all spoke clearly and loudly without the help of mics, and although the digitally added sound sometimes overwhelmed, errors were quickly addressed.
Fraught with emotion and impressive gravitas, Westtown School’s production of Big Love provided a commentary on hatred and love, tradition and freedom, and proved that “out of all human qualities, sympathy is the greatest.”
Review submitted by Aurelle Odhner of Academy of the New Church
A composite of thousands of years’ worth of literature and art, Charles Mee’s Big Love is sure to have something in it for everyone. It is a jagged, thought-provoking play, inspiring both laughter and tears, which Westtown School brought to life admirably.
Charles Mee’s work stands out among playwrights for several reasons. Describing himself as a “collage artist”, he pieces together existing literature to create a synthesis of everything from modern themes to contemporary literature to ancient Greek plays. Much of the framework of Big Love is drawn from Aeschylus’s “The Suppliant Women”, which is perhaps the earliest written play, but Mee brings a modern pertinence to the age-old plot. The story follows fifty sisters who are betrothed to their fifty cousins. Disgusted at the idea of a forced marriage, they flee their homeland of Greece and sail to Italy to seek refuge. As the plot thickens, the characters struggle with difficult questions about gender, love, and consent, but in the end only pose more queries.
Mee’s work is challenging both to absorb and to perform, but Westtown School produced a well-executed show. The cast worked hard to convey a diverse range of emotions and bring cohesion to this mosaicked show. Jay Scott’s work in performing, arranging, and coaching various aspects of this show was commendable.
Westtown was equipped with a dedicated cast, who strove to voice the conflicting opinions. Cleo Kelleher impassioned every word of her character, Thyona, with excessive volume and furious speeches that drowned out all other voices. Constantine, played by Isaiah Fernandez, was a force to reckon with on the stage, yet skillfully paired his dominating will with a subtle tenderness, evident in his rendition of “Make You Feel My Love.”
Stephen Blair lent a carefree and contemplative air to the personality of Giuliano in the song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The fleeting appearances of the Butler, played by David Feng, always invoked chuckles from the audience.
Reena Bradley brought together functionality, design, and craftsmanship to create a set which was as uniquely captivating as the show itself. Michael Campbell’s work on the scenery fulfilled the playwright’s vision that the setting resemble an art exhibit. The props master, Adrian Carnes, provided tools to make a mess on stage, including tomatoes ripe for smashing and cake perfect for smearing, which gave an authenticity to the performance.
Big Love is a show to remember. It invokes the same powerful emotions as a wedding: in the words of Charles Mee, “everybody cries, out of happiness and sorrow, regret and hope combined.”