Big Love is an unusual play. Presented by the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, the production is constantly in transition between scenes of dialogue and scenes of montage. Some of the scenes take place like a normal play, while others occur with loud music underneath, allowing for impassioned monologues into a microphone, dance sequences and other large action sequences.
During the talk-back after the performance on Jan. 29, director and third year MFA student Gina Marie Hayes described creating the show as something “much like collage," putting together scenes taking place in the world of the narrative and scenes that take place in a much more “heightened” reality. This process is effective in a play like Big Love because the dialogue verbally conveys the conflict within the character, and the movement creates a more visceral experience.
The story takes place in Italy in an undisclosed time period. The audience learns that 50 brides-to-be have escaped from arranged marriages to their "cousins" in Greece. The 50 brides are represented by three surrogate characters throughout most of the show: Lydia, played by School of Communication junior Tatyana Aravena-Getzinger, the centrist and unspoken leader of the group, Thyona, played by Communication junior Mimi Reininga, the extremist member attempting to take action and Olympia, played by Communication senior Mary Iris Loncto, the passive participant who follows orders. These surrogate characters and roles are present as well within the 50 grooms, introduced later. The play also explores gender roles, dom/sub relationships and the concept of marriage.
Big Love is the first show to perform in the Josephine Louis Theater since the renovations beginning fall 2015 were completed. It’s only a little unfortunate that the debut production had to be so tech heavy. At the opening night performance, the show had to be stopped twice. First, because of a medical emergency only a few minutes into the performance, and second, because of technical difficulties just as the final supporting characters were introduced. Thankfully, there were no disruptions during the climactic sequences, especially because there is no intermission in Big Love, so the technical crew has no real chance to regroup.
When the technical aspects are working, they are an absolute marvel. The show is very sound-heavy, with the music almost becoming a separate character. Often leading the tone of the show, the music was picked long before the show began production, according to Hayes.
The costumes are incredibly intricate and play a large part of the development of the characters, even before they say anything. It becomes clear throughout the show that the team behind the costume design was very much included in the creative process, as the character’s clothing develops with the characters themselves.
The lighting is stark and dramatic. The sheer number of cues is impressive, but the lighting works hand in hand with the show’s blocking, emphasizing important moments and varying the size of the stage. What is remarkable about Big Love is that the stage never feels too large or too small. The actors are always using the full allotted space, based on the amount of physical room or the lighting of the scene.
Another difficulty of having such a uniquely structured show is that the actors need to be powerful, both vocally and physically. The entire production hinges on the work of the actors, but Big Love hosts some very commanding and well-thought-out performances. The play allows for different perspectives and a lot of dimension to be seen for each of the characters, and the actors exceed the steep expectations put upon them.
The physical and emotional intensity of the production is very evident, and the feeling of catharsis is very strong. The scope of the show seems large by the end of the play, even with a limited number of locations and characters. It is obvious that a lot of work went into the production, and even with some technical difficulties on the opening night, Big Love is still a rewarding experience.
Big Love will have four more performances, Thursday, Feb. 4-6 at 7:30 and Sunday, Feb. 7 at 2p.m at the Josephine Louis Theater. Tickets and more information can be found at https://www.communication.northwestern.edu/wirtz/big_love.