Directed by Dexter Bullard
At American Theater Company (ATC), Chicago
Glimpse into 5 generations of one family wears thin
Dan LeFranc’s ambitious 80 minute family drama, The Big Meal, has hints of Our Town and The Dining Room in that we are exposed to the use of a framing device, in this case, family members meeting at a suburban restaurant for a meal. Actually, the big meal eventually becomes a symbol for death of an individual as the story evolves over 5 generations. All eight players sit in a bull pen waiting their turn at the table.
I had mixed feelings about this drama. I found the fast pace that tried to give snippets of each generation too thin to be more than a glimpse into each. I was impressed at how much family life playwright LeFranc and director Dexter Bullard were able to present. Too bad they couldn’t develop each more completely. The work begs a second act.
The show is filled with impressive work by all eight actors: Andrew Goetten, Phillip Earl Johnson, Emily Leahy, Lindsay Leoplod, Lia D. Mortensen, Peggy Roeder, Noah Jerome Schwartz and Will Zahrn. This cast nimbly moved from generation to generation deftly quickly flushing out a new character from the next generation. The flow from one side of the family to another necessitated exits and entrances by several characters particularly the younger cast members. These transitions were smooth and smart.
I guess my main problem with The Big Meal is that it may be too realistic a portrait of a family. I heard several audience members around me saying: “This family is just like mine!” So The Big Meal’s appeal may be familiarity? I had trouble with the ‘realistic’ style of many scenes that had many screaming arguments and several instances where one actor talks over a conversation by another actor. People do answer before another is finished and talk at the same time. Granted but in a play that becomes irritating and hard to follow especially when children are making noises just to irritate their parents. I’d cut back those devices.
The foul language that finds the mother and grandmother using the F-word often is unrealistic. Why do young playwrights have mature women using the F-word more than men? I don’t hear that from mature women. The shock value looses its impact the fourth or fifth tie we hear that.
Lastly, there just aren’t enough unique characters here to be memorable. Sam (Phillip Earl Johnson) is a jerk who treats his wife and children with contempt. The grandparents are mostly crude attention-starved narcissists and the children appear as mostly undisciplined brats. Maybe this is a true-to-life family?
As the 80 minutes fly by, we eventually start to get the larger picture of the cycles of life that comes from that first meeting years ago. We are struck by just how many people each of us affects during our lifetime. We lament as each family member eats their “big meal” as they pass from us. The Big Meal, taken as a whole work, becomes a vivid and complete profile of the cycles of family life. Take this roller-coaster dinner ride to gather a glimpse into the possible dynamics of your family’s growth. Despite my small irritations, The Big Meal’s entree is delicious and palatable.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2011
For full show information, check out The Big Meal page at Theatre In Chicago.
At American Theater Company (ATC), 1909 W. Byron St.. Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4215, www.atcweb.org, tickets $35 – $40, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 80 minutes without intermission, through March 6, 2011