BWW Review: THE BIG MEAL Feeds Four Generations of Family at Terrific New Theatre
The Big Meal makes a stylized approach to watching a family tree grow on stage. Pivotal moments in the timeline of this family are played out in sequence by a gifted group of eight actors. The play starts simply with a typical guy meets girl scenario. The act of sharing a drink together starts the sparks that grow into a warm and at times scolding relationship. The realism of the script keeps the story grounded right from the start. They start off as young people simply having a fun time together and not as doe eyed lovers with emoji hearts swirling around their heads. At first Sam comes off as a guy looking for someone and Nicole sees Sam as just another guy with the potential to be a future ex-boyfriend. They both mature and their love grows. The play follows them in short vignettes. As the years pass by the couple get married, have kids, become grandparents and reach old age. The drama is played out over four generations of the family. The actors impressively all play all of the various characters at young and older ages. The characters in their later years are played by Debbie Smith and Edwin Booth. Holly Dikeman and Al Cohn portray the characters in their 30's - 50's. The teens and twenty something roles are played by Darby Burgess and Finn Steward; the roles of the children are performed by Gracie Marble and Sam Oliver. The most notable highlight of the show is the cast's chameleon effect in playing so many distinctly different characters in a heightened pace. The actors give specific nuances and attitudes to each character. The character's mannerisms carry from one actor in the role to next actor at an older age.
Director David Strickland was excited to bring The Big Meal to Birmingham. "I saw a performance of the play six years ago in Chicago. It's a roller coaster of a play and I have always wanted to do something different. It was always on the back of my mind." The cast he has constructed exudes the natural chemistry of a family. Strickland acquired some of Birmingham's best actors for the show. "I was fortunate to of been able to pull together some of my favorite people. It's the best way to work."
One of Birmingham's most popular actresses, Debbie Smith brings a mindful and skilled delivery of the female roles in the later years. Smith finds the play to be insightful. "It really brings home the significance of day to day life. Even with everything in the world being such a mess right now. It's easy to see the people in your lives and seeing the generations. You get irritated with these people, but you love them with all your heart." Edwin Booth tall stature is equally matched with his stage presence and character work. He plays the elder male characters with comedic and cringe worthy traits of with a very crafted touch.
Another Birmingham theater headliner is Holly Dikeman. She brings life to the female roles in their 30s to 50s. Dikeman has a wonderful relatability and tenderness that makes you knot up with each heartbreak. Newcomer Al Cohn delivery brings a strong connection to each of the middle aged male roles. You would never guess that this is Cohn's first performance on stage in twenty years. He carries the roles a seasoned pro with much charisma. Finn Steward and Darby Burgess are fresh young talent with unyielding stage presence, comedy timing and emotional grace. Burgess jumps into the female characters in the late teens to 30's age bracket. She has a sharp spunkiness and about her. Stewart finds this experience to be one of great talent and discovery. "It's great to get a new script where you have to collaborate with the other actors to keep these people consistent through the generations. This has been a great show to learn from." Gracie Marble and Sam Oliver both give their all in the roles of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The cast is rounded out with Max Menaker who gives presence to the necessary role of "The Server."
The setting of the restaurant is a perfect location for this play. The throws of family peril are regularly found at any family dinners. Each character in the family deals with the progression of youthful enthusiasm maturing into straining conflict. Strickland placing the cast on benches in background gives the play a presence of family. They may not be in the scene, but they are there always.
The Big Meal leaves you with a long process of thoughts toward family dynamics and love. Debbie Smith finds the message of the show to be "I hate not to be original but love is love, is love, is love." Stewart says he hopes the audience walks away in reflection. "Really enjoy all the moments that they have, even with large chaotic groups of family. For it is a beautiful and limited thing. Director David Strickland thinks "This play approximates the rush of life in a really powerful way. The playwright says it best in this line "Pay attention to this moment, right here and right now." The effect of this impressive performance rivets your heart to these characters. The Big Meal is a filling reflection at four generations of a family.
The show runs without an intermission, but then again so does life.
The Big Meal
Written by: Dan LeFranc
Directed by: David Strickland
Woman #1 Debbie Smith
Man #1 Edwin Booth
Woman #2 Holly Dikeman
Man #2 Al Cohn
Woman #3 Darby Burgess
Man #3 Finn Steward
Girl - Gracie Marble
Boy - Samuel Oliver
Server Max Menaker
Nov 3 - 18 Thurs/Fri/Sat - 8pm (Sunday Matinees - 11/5 & 11/12 - 2:30pm)
Terrific New Theatre - 2821 2nd Ave S. (at Pepper Place) Birmingham, AL
For tickets and more info: terrificnewtheatre.com or (205) 328-0868