Participants in this term’s main stage theater department production, Charles Mee’s “Big Love,” had the unusual privilege of working with a professional fight choreographer and light designer who traveled far to work in Hanover. The play will run in Moore Theater from Nov. 8 through Nov. 17.
Loosely based off of Aeschylus’ “The Suppliants,” thought to be the oldest surviving Greek play, “Big Love” follows 50 women as they flee from Greece to Italy in an attempt to escape their 50 fiances, who are also their cousins. Three sisters — Lydia, Thyona and Olympia — and their respective husbands — Nikos, Constantine and Oed — are the primary focus of the play.
Each character has a particular set of opinions about gender, love and marriage. Thyona, played by Diane Chen ’14, is a strong-willed, militant feminist who believes nothing good can come from men. Veronica Burt ’16 plays Olympia, a feminine and naive woman with an overly sexual and confident side who enjoys having a man around. Meanwhile, Lydia, played by Rachel Decker-Sadowski ’14, is the most realistic of the three, although she is also optimistic about the world and true love.
“I love how different the sisters are and the fact that all three of them are right,” Chen said. “I don’t think any of them are wrong.”
The three main men follow a similar pattern on the continuum in their beliefs. Constantine, played by Joshua Echebiri ’14, is a hyper-masculine figure believes it’s his responsibility to show women what the world is like. Chen Li ’14 plays Oed, who is trying to figure out what his thoughts on masculinity are. Nikos, played by Reed Sturtevant ’16, is a hopeless romantic who believes in the importance of quality and trust in a relationship.
“They’re all archetypes, but what makes it interesting is that they’re archetypes who are exploring and questioning what it means to be that,” said Amber Porter ’14, assistant to the director.
Although the characters may seem stereotypical at first, the discussions they engage in lend more depth to the plot.
“These are such distinct characters, but they do all represent some facet of the world and the argument,” Chen said.
Student schedule conflicts were the biggest obstacle to “Big Love” rehearsals, but participants were able to make adjustments accordingly, guest director Tazewell Thompson said.
Unlike the typical student play, however, many professional guest artists have come in to work on the production. Both Thompson and the fight choreographer Ron Piretti spend much of their careers on Broadway. Lighting designer Stephen Quandt and Fabian Obispo, the composer and sound designer, have worked with Thompson in the past. In addition, members of the theater faculty have played important roles, with Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili working as set designer and Laurie Churba-Kohn as costume designer.
“It has been such a great opportunity being able to work with professional, non-Dartmouth people on the production,” said Sophia Gish ’16, who plays Eleanor.
Over the past week, the cast and crew have been running through tech and dress rehearsals. During the first few tech rehearsals, in which costumes, lights, sound and all of the other aspects of the play are added, many of those involved noted a sudden change in the energy from the cast.
“When it all came together, the emotion really stepped up,” Echebiri said. “We all stepped up.”
Cast members now have the chance to add finishing touches to the characters.
“This is actually the most prepared I’ve ever felt for a show. I’ve never been able to go back and comb over scenes like we have,” said Luke Katler ’15, who plays Piero.
Despite changes over the past term, the messages relating to gender, love and marriage have not been lost in translation.
“Love is something we all need to come together and discuss and investigate what does it mean, not just in the context of marriage, in the context of living together,” Echebiri said. “I think this play explores that in a way that campus discussions may not.”
The play is likely to have very different meanings to each person in the audience, which is part of what makes the final productions such an exciting time not only for those experiencing the play for the first time, but for the cast and crew who have been working on it.
“Everyone will see it differently,” Decker-Sardowski said.
Reflection on these ideas will prove beneficial for everyone who comes to see the production.
“Especially when it comes to this campus, I think it would make people think about how they perceive other sexes and genders and maybe reconsider some stereotypes that they’ve set up for themselves or for other sexes and genders,” Burt said.
Friday’s opening night performance will feature a pre-show concert by the Rockapellas at 7:30 p.m. at the Top of the Hop, and the show on Nov. 15 will be followed by a discussion with Thompson and various student leaders.
Katler is a member of The Dartmouth staff.