Dan LeFranc’s challenging “The Big Meal” is both a challenge to the audience and a challenge to the talented Gamm cast, requiring eight actors to play 17 characters over 80 years.
Director Tyler Dobrowsky’s program notes are worth reading before the play, as well as “A Character Guide to “The Big Meal” sheet. Dobrosky compares the modern play with Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” an analogy I didn’t get until well into the 90-minute, one-act play.
Dobrowsky’s direction and LeFranc’s fast-paced dialogue forces the audience to pay attention, as the characters are played by different actors as they age.
It all begins with a young man and a young woman meeting in a restaurant. The restaurant is the center of all activity as we watch the single couple fall in love, marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, each family member intertwining with each other along the way.
This is a true circle of life experience, as we become part of the lives of Sam (Steve Kidd) and Nicole (Karen Carpenter). Along the way there are joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments and for some, The Big Meal, an analogy that is presented in a most dramatic, original and poignant way.
The play never dwells long on one scene, challenging the audience to fill in the blanks and keep up with who’s who…not always an easy task.
Joe Short, for example, brilliantly plays eight different characters, each distinguishable in their own way. The play moves so fast that the character occasionally comes and goes before you have had a chance to clearly identify him. Amanda Ruggiero plays five different young women.
But don’t let that bother you. By the time the play comes to its poignant conclusion, everything comes together, and you realize that you have experienced four generations of one family striving to connect with each other.
Richard Donnelly plays two characters, including Sam as he enters that scary world of dementia. Wendy Overly also plays two characters, including Sam’s mother and then Sam’s aging wife, Nicole. She is so brilliant in both portrayals that you will care deeply for her and perhaps shed a tear, as she does, as the play concludes. (Overly told me that the role so fills her with emotion that the tears come regularly and naturally.)
All of the actors except for the two children (Emeline Easton and Elliot Peters) are experienced equity actors, and all eight work brilliantly together to bring this complex play together.
If you are a bit overwhelmed at first, stick with it, because “The Big Meal” is like a satisfying banquet that will stay with you for a long time.
At Gamm Theatre through February 9. For tickets, priced at $38 and $48, call 723-4266, or go online at gammtheatre.org.