Spanning generations, The Big Meal follows the lives of an American family, starting from a young couple meeting for the very first time through to an older couple sitting alone, contemplating the family generations and memories created from that intial meeting. Dan Lefranc‘s award nominated play is set in a cafe/resteraunt (or many) and takes us through the funny, annoying, frantic, infuriating, embarrassing and sad moments in life.
Lefranc’s writing is good, although I found my own personal response was to want more from it. The play draws on so many of life’s vignettes, it did not have time to expand on or explore any. Maybe this is the point – life goes on. We all experience it, we all suffer from it, enjoy it, share it and ultimately, leave it…. sometimes wanting more from it.
The opening moments were a machine-gun-fire of scenes and dialogue as we meet our first young couple (Tasha O’Bien and Brendan Paul ). They meet, date, fall in love and fall out of love in about ten or fifteen minutes. Director Julie Baz kept the pace and the dialogue running along briskly and the actors dealt with the pace and timing well. From here we tracked through the significant moments of the couple and their family’s lives. A tag team approach to performing the roles followed as three generations of actors covered the maturing of the couple. As the younger actors were replaced by the older actors, they took up the role of their children. This created a demanding level of skill to differentiate all the characters as well as maintaining mannerisms and affectations of the performer before them. Generally this was successful.
The pace of this play is frantic and there were times on opening night when the production got caught up in this. As a result there were, for me, a little too many moments in which no dialogue was discernible in the cacophony of noise. Similarly the children were all played at maximum volume, while this is not necessarily an inaccurate representation, it left no room for variation and subtly in later scenes.
Overall performances were of a good standard. A couple of actors pushed too much; overly heightened vocal or physical attributes losing the honesty and, at times, the comedy. For me, stand out performances came from Kaitlyn Thor, Suzanne James and Tasha O’Brien. Thor had some very beautifully honest moments on stage as a mother frazzled to the end of her patience, or a wife struggling with a husband whose eye has started to wander. James also provided some lovely moments. At times light and comic, at others emotional. The final scene with Cormac Costello was poignant. O’Brien, of all, handled the rapid jump between characters, the differentiation between them and (especially in the opening scenes) the rapid fire dialogue the best. She never overplayed the characters or the comedy.
David Jeffrey‘s set made use of the stage very well. A simply but elegant set of flats at the back corner with a long drinks bar in front and scattered tables and chairs set the scene of a restaurant perfectly. It gave ample space for the performers to work while never feeling sparse and allowed for the very fast entrances and exits of actors as they ‘swapped’ roles. Baz choreographed this piece perfectly. Snappy jumps between scenes with a simple prop movement or a quick overlap of actors as the years swept by were all smooth and tight. Mehran Mortezaei lighting design complimented the production, especially with the quick scene changes and nicely isolated or overlapping moments. Thomas E. Moore‘s Sound Design also lifted the production when it needed to.
I enjoyed this production. The cast are energetic and committed and you leave the theatre thinking about how long, or how short life can be.
Lynden Jones – Theatre Now & On The Town
18 Oct – 4 Nov 2017
8pm Wed – Sat, 5pm Sun
Venue: Depot Theatre
Theatre Company: Depot Theatre
Duration: 90 minutes, no interval