The Big Meal

by Dan LeFranc
Directed by Sam Gold
Featuring Anita Gillette, Tom Bloom, Jennifer Mudge
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
March 21, 2012 — April 22, 2012

Anita Gillette.

There are nine terrific performers and a multitude of characters to applaud in Dan LeFranc‘s The Big Meal, now playing its New York premiere production at Playwrights Horizons. In this sparsely designed, efficiently crafted, flowingly directed production multiple generations and life times are lived and discussed and debated over restaurant menus and empty drink glasses. Meals are served at precisely calibrated and resonant moments. Dialogue is served more generously, choreographed meticulously, delivered with nuance and power. And with all these negotiated verbal moments, the most devastating sequences transpire in total silence. Days later the silence reverberates deliciously and devastatingly. Let us praise Anita Gillette.

Actors receive billing as Woman (1 or 2 or 3) or Man (1 or 2 or 3) or Boy or Girl or Server (there’s are nine actor bodies) because this playwright has written these characters to morph from scene to scene into their own mothers or grandmothers or fathers or other genetically interrelated generational constellations. This makes plot summaries difficult, but suffice it to say that plot points here are entirely restaurant table meetings: first dates and meet-the-parent events and wedding receptions and visits to aging parents and introducing grandparents to new grandchildren. The youngest among the cast bring delightful preteen energy to their roles as multiple generations of rug rats (sullen or pestering siblings or cousins): Rachel Resheff and Griffin Birney.  The young adult actors provide fun range of rampaging adolescence and youthful vigorous sexual adventures: Phoebe Strole and Cameron Scoggins.  Young middle age is captured variously by Jennifer Mudge and David Wilson Barnes.  And old age, always the grandparents, the young couple we initially meet in their twenties as themselves decades later dealing with their own mortality, with all our morality, with the resonance of all those meals and all that noise and all that silence: Anita Gillette and Tom Bloom.

Audiences and reviewers in Chicago’s world premiere production and now in New York comment upon the resonance of this play with Thorton Wilder‘s Our Town. I add to that chorus, particularly mindful of David Cromer’s production I caught at the Barrow Street Theatre. These plays and these productions share a focus upon and a respect for our human connections to one another, our quiet individual final moments. In this production (spare effective set by David Zinn, sound by Mark Barton, lighting by Leah Gelpe) life is chatter and interactions can be chaos and the family is core and we all are alone. In part, in our groups, but in the end, in one focused white light, feeling our story, alone. Let us praise Anita Gillette.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 26, 2012)

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