BWW Reviews: No Reservations - THE BIG MEAL Is Fantastic
Dan LeFranc's play The Big Meal begins with a waitress named Nikki flirting with her customer, Sam. They talk about going somewhere to be alone. "What do you want to do?" Sam asks.
"Everything," Nikki answers.
Here's the kicker: at the end of this ninety-minute play, the two of them actually will have done everything. The Big Meal is about nothing less than the entire scope of life, played out in a series of meals in a variety of restaurants. (There's a metaphor here, about life as a meal, about ordering the best things from the menu, etc., but let's not belabor the point.) As the characters age, the actors trade roles, but you'll be able to keep up. A lot happens to Nikki and Sam in the course of their lives: marriage, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a lot of arguments and tricky relationships along the way.
LeFranc has provided a lot of laughter. Nikki is bold and brazen, Sam a shade more reserved, and their interplay with each other makes for a lot of humor. Their parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren each have distinct personalities, and no matter who's playing which part, it's simple to keep the characters straight.
I'm not going to go into much description of story here, because there isn't really a story. The Big Meal is an examination of American lives over the long haul. And I want you to discover the moments for yourself. (A favorite of mine is the moment when Sam and Nikki's teenage daughter starts dating a series of young men. LeFranc finds an innovative way of demonstrating her quicksilver personality, and the actors are magnificent at playing the scene.) There are moments of explosive laughter followed by moments of great sadness. And when the food arrives...it will surprise you.
Praise goes to LeFranc for crafting such a short but intensely personal play, and to director Damaso Rodriguez for staging it with verve and energy. The set couldn't be simpler: a series of tables and chairs aligned to resemble a restaurant, moved around as needed by the cast as the family reconfigures over time.
I can't say enough wonderful things about this cast. Allen Nause and Vana O'Brien play the senior roles, Scott Lowell and Val Landrum are the middle-aged characters, Andy Lee-Hillstrom and Britt Harris are the younger adults, and Harper Lea and Agatha Olson are the children. All eight are phenomenal, getting to the heart of the many short scenes, and playing off each other with great skill. Lowell and Landrum in particular are fantastic; they take on the lead roles of Nikki and Sam for the longest part of the show, and handle the ups and downs of their long marriage with skill, humor, and nerve.
I guess I'm required to end on a food metaphor. Okay: Gorge yourself on The Big Meal. It's not a huge portion, but it's delicious, and you'll leave satisfied.