The Big Meal @ Playwrights Horizons through 4/29/12

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Compassionate, hopeful, and heartbreaking, The Big Meal tackles the daunting task of capturing the beauty of human existence that is filled with challenges. This witty play by Dan LeFranc observes the lives of five generations of a single family without getting up from the dinner table. Director Sam Gold beautifully uses his resources by letting both the simplicity of the production and the modesty of the actors shine. With a play like this, the production could’ve faltered. However, Sam Gold’s attention to detail brings more authenticity and creativity to Dan LeFranc’s fast paced play. The play begins when Sam, sitting in a restaurant, lovingly attempts to engage Nicole, a waitress, in a conversation. This is followed by a series of short scenes, which leads to a first date, then to marriage, and then to children. These abrupt scenes and character changes, which continue throughout the play, could easily be missed if one doesn’t pay attention to the deep and meaningful message they are portraying. Both Dan LeFranc and Sam Gold take the game of musical chairs as far as it can go to express the point that family behaviors are ritualistic. Though we may tell ourselves we would never repeat the mistakes of our family members, their patterns and traditions tend to sneak up on you without thought. With its constant changes and rapid dialogue, the play takes a moment to reflect on life’s anguish when a female waitress brings over a plate of food to the character that is suffering at that moment. It’s a moment when you realize she is serving their last meal.

Each versatile actor takes on the impossible feat of portraying the various ever expanding family members as they take you through their journey of life. The two central characters are played by three sets of actors. It is hard to depict each actor’s performance as they are all touching and naturally impeccable. Each actor picks up on the essence of a character from the actor who has inhabited the role without imitation. Though each character is intriguing in their own right, Nicole was the one who had the most presence and emotional depth. In heartbreaking detail, Nicole is the last one standing as she takes care of her ailing husband Sam. While The Big Meal is reminiscent of plays from the past, its creative authenticity proudly grabs you. Just don’t show up to the theater hungry.

The Big Meal runs at Playwrights Horizons through April 29th. For more in formation, please visit  http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/sharp.asp.

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