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Big Love staging features cake fights, wrestling, singing


You are cordially invited to the wedding of 50 brides and 50 grooms — one that is filled with cake fights, murder, and the occasional pop song.

Needless to say, this is not your typical wedding. The sisters kill their husbands, all except one. One of the sisters cannot commit the crime and is put on trial by the others for breaking their pact of solidarity.

Theatre at UBC, the renowned interdisciplinary training program, presents “Big Love,” a fresh take on the age-old story of 50 sisters promised in marriage to their cousins.

The production features eight intermediate and final-year actors from the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program, and opens Thursday, Jan. 25. at the Telus Studio Theatre in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. Professional actor Daryl King joins the company in the production.

“It’s really vibrant,” says Joanna Garfinkel, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate who is directing the staging as her thesis project.

“It’s not the kind of play where you go and sit quietly in the dark with your hands folded on your lap and feel removed from it. It’s the kind of play that has cake fights and wrestling and singing.”

The play, written by American playwright Charles L. Mee, revamps Aeschylus’ “The Suppliant Maidens” (c. 490 B.C.), one of the earliest surviving plays from ancient Greece, with a few added twists.

“At the time, the Aeschylus text was really saying that these women wanted a choice in getting married. But in this modern version by Charles Mee, there’s all this other stuff. He pulled in a lot of pop culture themes and all the characters are really fully realized.”

The sisters, who originally functioned as a chorus in Aeschylus’ version, are presented as three “fully fleshed-out individuals,” says Garfinkel — the militant Thyona (played by intermediate-year student Courtney Lancaster), the romantic Olympia (intermediate-year Cecile Roslin) and the conflicted Lydia (intermediate-year Yoshie Bancroft).

All of Mee’s plays are available online as part of what the playwright calls “the (re)making project.” Mee encourages artists to take his works and create something entirely new, just as he has integrated existing texts into his stage works.

For example, in addition to Aeschylus’ “Big Love,” the playwright samples works by would-be Andy Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas for the character of Thyona, and 10th century Japanese author Sei Shonagon for Olympia.

“I think that Charles Mee is kind of like a hip-hop artist,” says Garfinkel. “He pulls on all these different cultural elements from all over the world and all over time and makes them into this really great song.”

“There is no such thing as an original play,” Mee argues on his website. “None of the classical Greek plays were original: they were all based on earlier plays or poems or myths.”

As a former historian, Mee’s thorough knowledge of antiquity allows him to ‘re-make’ this classic play, says Garfinkel.

This allows the suitors — Constantine (guest actor Daryl King), Oed (intermediate-year Gord Myren), and Nikos (intermediate-year Spencer Atkinson) — to pursue the sisters via a modern mode of transportation — a helicopter.

“It’s so in his bones that he can be very comfortable and playful with it,” says Garfinkel. “That’s why he can even have these characters sing a Leslie Gore pop song.”

Garfinkel believes this play is so much more than what is typically dubbed as a “battle of the sexes.”

“It’s about defining yourself,” she says. “That’s because the modern day battle of the sexes is a more internalized battle — Must I be this man who comes in and violently takes you as my bride? Must I be the kind of woman who just goes along with such a plan?”

“It relates to the battle against the sexes but sometimes that’s too regimented. It’s too men-against-women. And this isn’t a men-against-women play. It’s us against ourselves.”

So what can audiences expect?

“They can expect to hold their breath at some point. They can expect to be on the edge of their seat. They can feel like they’ve been invited to a very crazy wedding,” Garfinkel says.

“I think it will change what people expect from going to theatre. Unless you expect cake fights and singing.”

Article published by UBC Faculty of Arts, January 19, 2007

[Photo courtesy of UBC Department of Theatre and Film]

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