Since creating a sensation at the 2000 Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Big Love, Charles Mee’s updating of Aeschylus’ The Supplicant Women, has been picked up by a number of theatres around the country, including Berkeley Rep, Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre and Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Now, the popular and critically acclaimed show can finally be seen by New Yorkers. Big Love runs Nov. 30-Dec. 9 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the 2001 New Wave Festival. Les Waters directs the production, which will have 10 performances in all.
Big Love is preceded in New York by the two other works in Mee's "Love Trilogy." First Love, about first-time love between two elderly people, ran through Sept. 23 at New York Theatre Workshop. The playwright's daughter, Erin B. Mee, directed. Then, True Love, based on Euripides' Hippolytus and Racine's Phedre — and with added text from Andy Warhol, Jerry Springer's talk show and the Menendez brothers' trial — christened the new Zipper Theatre on West 37th Street on Nov. 15.
Big Love remains the best known of the three. Sequences in this tale of fifty sisters forced to marry fifty cousins (the audience saw only three of each) included the actors throwing themselves repeatedly against the padded floor, one actress peeling off her wedding gown and sliding nude into a bathtub, two male actors throwing circular saw blades into the wall, and a grand guignol wedding night both funny and horrific.
In a 2000 interview with Playbill On-Line, Mee said "Director Les Waters and choreographer Jean Isaacs really got the play as a whole. I think Les is amazing in the way he works with actors. When you watch it from the audience, I think you're not aware of the staging; it flows and seems fairly complex. I watched it from the lighting booth, and it's amazingly, almost mathematically, choreographed, with actors at four corners of the three quarters space stage. I thought the cast and director did a great job; still, I was kind of astonished by the response [of the Louisville audience]. It seemed euphoric; which was really surprising to me. But the wildness of the piece was definitely in the script as well.
"Adapting is a funny word, " he continued. "None of the Greeks wrote an `original' play; all were taken from older stories. Shakespeare took other people's stories or plays, too. If the greatest playwrights in the history of the world took others' stories to reinterpret, I can do the same thing. So that drew me both to the Greeks and to others; great stories don't belong to an individual playwright but to the culture as a whole. In every age, great love stories are reinterpreted in a way that feels alive in that moment. Trojan Women and Orestes were even more extreme [than Big Love]. All the Greek plays are pretty extreme; that's what makes them so great. They don't try to gloss things over or make them tidy. They don't feel they should start with some simple misunderstanding that needs to be resolved by the final commercial break on network TV. They deal with big and difficult issues. This is the true material of human life: now try to make love and a society out of this." Tickets are $20-$50. For more information, call (718) 521-3333.
Mee will participate in a dialogue with Richard Fisher on Dec. 4 at 6 PM at BAM Rose Cinemas, Theatre 2. Tickets at $8.
—By Robert Simonson