- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

Charles L. Mee's "Big Love," based on the classical drama "The Suppliant Women" by Aeschylus, is a raucous cap-off to a Washington theater season that has gone Greek. From the Shakespeare Theatre to Studio Theatre and Arena Stage, area theaters have not been Spartan in their re-imaginings of the classics.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's "Big Love" is the wildest toga party of them all.
Inspired by Aeschylus' play about 50 sisters pledged since birth to marry 50 brothers their cousins "Big Love" goes off on contemporary tangents about love, masculinity, femininity and justice.
The 50 sisters are represented by three: Lydia (Kate Eastwood Norris), Olympia (Lisa Biggs) and Thyona (Naomi Jacobson), who stagger onstage in their waterlogged wedding gowns after having escaped from Greece on the big day. They have sailed on a boat, seeking refuge in the Italian villa of a wealthy businessman, Piero (Leo Erickson).
Piero and his quintessential Italian mama, Bella (June Hansen), allow the girls to stay. Their safety is fleeting, though, because the grooms Constantine (Mitchell Hebert), Oed (David Lamont Wilson) and Nikos (Eric Sutton) follow quickly. They will claim their brides at all costs by force if necessary.
Constantine, pledged to the stridently angry Thyona, seems to lick his chops at the idea of grappling with his wife-to-be.
Led by Thyona, the sisters decide that their families, their country and their new hosts have failed them.
They take the law into their own hands and vow to murder their persistent bridegrooms before the men can lay a paw on them. This makes for an unusually action-packed reception, as the couples fling wedding cake, hurl presents and hunker down like pro wrestlers itching for a fight.
In the aftermath, more than wedding cake is smashed into the carpet. Mama Bella, acting as an earthy deus ex machina, puts the sisters on trial not for murder, but to discuss whether love trumps justice. Her answer may surprise you, anger you or seem like a cop-out.
In the extreme world of "Big Love," director Howard Shalwitz has gone to extremes with a surreal, dreamy set that recalls the artists Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. The actors hurl themselves into their roles with a mixture of slapstick, acrobatics, performance art and good, old-fashioned wrasslin' in this tranquil setting.
Everything about "Big Love" is about as understated as a clown shoe. The three grooms are in varying states of boorishness, led by the braying Constantine (played with confused anger by Mr. Hebert). The sisters are lambs to the slaughter. Even Thyona's rage seems impotent in the wake of laws made by men, for men.
The scarily physical Miss Jacobson bashes herself against the wall in her outrage, but it is her pure anger that brings about action. The other two are just following her lead Lydia, trapped between obligation and emotion (delicately articulated by Miss Norris), and Olympia, a girly-girl who just wants to have fun. Miss Biggs plays Olympia like Malibu Barbie or a Maxim pinup come to life pliant, soft, sexy and easily led.
Still, you wonder if the outrageousness could not have been pushed further. A situation like this calls for a bloodbath not just what are obviously plastic-foam cake layers being tossed around like Frisbees.
Yet the acting style is so high-pitched that when the play quiets down and the divinely epicene Guiliano (Bruce Nelson), Bella's other son, pauses to deliver meditations on love so full of artifice that Oscar Wilde would be proud, you are completely thrown off base. All of the more muted scenes play so falsely because of this.
Still, if you ever wanted to kill your groom, this play is for you. It doesn't really ponder the big questions, except for one: Do the brides get to keep the gifts?

WHAT: "Big Love," by Charles L. Mee
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and July 9 and 16, 2 p.m. July 6 and 20, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through July 21
WHERE: Woolly Mammoth in the AFI Theater at the Kennedy Center, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
TICKETS: $17 to $32
PHONE: 202/467-4600 or on line at www.woollymammoth.net

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