‘Sensory overload’: Charles Mee’s Big Love presented by PAD

Classical drama collides with modern-day excess in Charles Mee’s Big Love, a fiercely extravagant adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Maidens that The New York Times describes as “an MGM musical in Technicolor, a circus and, believe it, a Greek tragedy.”

Big love cast members Potier, Rhyu and Blicher
The Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will present Charles Mee’s Big Love in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre April 24 and 26-27. Pictured above are (from left) sophomore Aundriel Potier, senior Jea Hyun Rhyu and senior Nicole Blicher. – Photo by Joe Angeles

Presented by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, performances will begin at 8 p.m. April 24; at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. April 26; and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 27 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in Mallinckrodt Student Center.

Written in approximately 490 B.C., The Suppliant Maidens is one of the oldest surviving dramas in Western literature. Mee, a former historian and magazine editor, uses the basic storyline — 50 sisters flee arranged marriages to their 50 cousins — as a kind of launch pad for a wide-ranging, and frequently Dionysian, rumination on the so-called “battle of the sexes.”

The sisters, who originally functioned as a chorus, are here rendered as three distinct voices: the militant Thyona (sophomore Aundriel Potier), the romantic Olympia (senior Nicole Blicher) and the conflicted Lydia (senior Jea Hyun Rhyu).

Rebelling against the unwanted nuptials, the three take refuge in the spacious Italian villa of Piero (senior Sam Reiff-Pasarew), yet their suitors — American émigrés Constantine (senior Chris Narducci), Oed (sophomore Damien Cortese) and Nikos (junior Jared Macke) — remain in hot pursuit, descending upon the villa by helicopter.

When Piero’s attempts to arbitrate the matter fail, the sisters resolve to marry and then murder their would-be husbands, despite Lydia’s growing fondness for the sweet-tempered Nikos.

“It’s a play filled with sensory excess, sensory overload,” said Andrea Urice, artist-in-residence in the PAD, who directs the cast of 15. “The music is beautiful but played too loudly; the clothes — tuxedoes and wedding dresses — are lovely but get smeared with blood and wedding cake.

“You have very tender, poignant moments and then you have stuff that’s completely over the top: the beautiful and the ugly all wrapped up into one.”

Urice first encountered Big Love at its premiere at the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s messy and difficult, and it extends beyond just men and women fighting,” she added. “Ultimately, I think he’s asking us to look at how humans behave when we’re in ‘crisis mode’ — when we’re facing imminent disaster or other difficult situations — and what it would be like to live in that heightened state all the time.”

The PAD technical crew includes scenic designer Christopher Pickart, artist-in-residence, who, in order to accommodate the play’s significant physical demands, has subtly fashioned the stage as a kind of giant wrestling mat.

Costumes are by senior Cassandra Beaver. Lighting is by David Vogel, technical director and artist-in-residence, with sound by senior Erin Whitten. Lou Bird served as guest fight director.

Tickets — $12; $8 for University faculty and staff, students and senior citizens — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.