Review: ‘Big Love’ provocative at UH-Manoa

Oct. 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

In the lyrics of “Hawaii ‘78,” composer Mickey Ioane ponders how Hawaii’s 19th century alii would feel if they saw Hawaii as it is today. The UH-Manoa Kennedy Theatre production of Charles L. Mee’s contemporary fantasy, “Big Love,” reworked as a musical by director Ian Belton and composer Brendan Connelly, prompts similar thoughts regarding a Greek playwright named Aeschylus.

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‘Big Love’

Presented by Kennedy Theatre

» Where: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
» When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, through Saturday, Oct. 5; also 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
» Cost: $25 general admission; $22 for seniors, military and UH faculty/staff; $16 for UHAA members; $13 for students; $5 for UHM students w/valid ID
» Info: 944-2697 or etickethawaii.com
» Note: Appropriate for audiences 14+

“Big Love” takes its premise from “The Supplicants,” a play Aeschylus wrote more than 2400 years ago. Belton’s production is described is a “loose adaptation.” What would Aeschylus make of this “loose adaptation” of the story he crafted with such care?

Mee sets the story in contemporary Europe but the plot is a product of other eras and different cultures. Fifty women whose parents have arranged legally binding marriages for them flee Greece and end up in Italy where they find temporary refuge in the palatial mansion of a wealthy Italian named Piero (Nygell Halvorsen). The story focuses on three of the 50 fugitives.

Olympia (Mareva Minerbi) enjoys being a woman, flirting and being flirted with, looking pretty and being admired by men when they see her. Thyona (Kaitlin Souza) is an uncompromising misandrist who defines all men as inherently evil oppressor-scum — as attitude that defines even fully consensual heterosexual sex as rape. Lydia (Karissa Murrell-Myers) doesn’t want to be forced to marry a man but believes that men and women can be loving equal partners in a consensual relationship.

The 50 jilted grooms arrive via helicopter. They make it known that they expect Piero to act in accordance with international law and respect their right to enforce their contacts.

Constantine (Harold Wong), Thyone’s finance, is a strict legalist; he has a valid legal contract with her parents and expects its terms to be enforced. Nikos (Treyvon Love) is in love with Lydia but wants her to marry him of her own free will. A scene where Nikos tries to explain himself, and Lydia waits with growing impatience as he hems and haws, is one of the few humorous moments in the show.

Piero tries to negotiate a compromise. Maybe some of the 50 women want to get married? Thyona says any marriages at all are out of the question.

Other prominent characters include Piero’s shrewish, excessively stereotypical Italian mother (Josephine Calvo), his equally stereotypical gay nephew, Guiliano (Elvis Nguyen), and his ultra-chic house guests, Leo (Montana Rizzuto) and Eleanor (Sami Akuna).

Guiliano turns out to be the only man in the place that the sisters all get along with.

Minerbi, Souza and Murrell-Meyers are eloquent spokeswomen for the positions their characters represent. Murrell-Meyers and Love step into fuller roles with their romantic scene, and Nguyen owns the show in the scene where Guiliano recalls a pivotal moment in his life.

A quartet of “Insoucient Women” (Kristie Campbell, Adrienne Ramos, Ryli Schmiedel and Melissa Schmitz) represent the 46 additional women. A four-man “Angry Man Chorus (Nicholas Chun, Anthony Dang, Michael Donato and Zachary Loscalzo) are their male counterparts.

Modern American culture is brought into the action with are references to Ken and Barbie, Vera Wang gowns and modern refugee groups such as “Kosovars, Ibos, Tusis and boat people.” The musical numbers include Lesley Gore’s 1964 anthem, “You Don’t Own Me,” a Rodgers & Hart classic (“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”) and performances on ukulele and piano by various members of the cast. There is also a three-way pro wrestling style battle between Olympia, Thyona and Lydia, and a scene where a third frustrated groom, Oed (Shaun Dikilato), wields round saw blades like martial arts weapons.

Most of the contemporary material works but there are times when the UH production seems to be more about performance for performance sake rather than the issues Mee addresses — and, presumably, Aeschylus addressed 2400 years before him. Mee’s potentially thought-provoking exploration of contemporary Western gender roles, marriage, love, violence and the conflicting expectations society places on both sexes gets submerged at times by the surrealistic fantasy setting on one hand, and by the gratuitously overwrought performances of individual actors on the other. Some of the schtick is unnecessary. Some of the technical choices amount to overkill.

For instance, it isn’t necessary to have aerialists in a show just because it is possible to have aerialists in a show.

That said, Joseph D. Dodd (Scenic Designer) and Ray Moschuk (Lighting Designer) enhance the production with their work establishing the locale and a kaleidoscope of emotional shadings. Samantha Shields (Costume Design) dresses Murrell-Myers, Souza and Minerbi in appropriately tattered wedding gowns, Jen Eccles (Properties Designer) provides a flea market’s worth of key smaller items from gift boxes to bouncing tomatoes, and the actor/musicians — Chun, Dikilato, Donato, Rizzuto and Schmiedel — acquit themselves well on piano (Chun) and ukulele.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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