Monday, September 9, 2013

The Big Meal—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

The Last Supper

This comedy-drama is written by Dan LeFranc and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep’s Artistic Director).  It is the West Coast premiere and is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through October 6th.  For more information go to their website at or call 503-241-1278.

Any resemblance to the Bible’s rendition of Christ’s last supper might be intentional, as it leads to death.  Or, the title, The Big Meal, might have something akin to the ancient Egyptians method of furnishing their royalty’s tombs with food, to nourish their spirits on their way to the hereafter.  And, certainly, meals have significance as a way of gathering couples/families together as a ritual for, not only feeding the bodies, but also instituting and/or inciting relationships.

Explaining the story is more of a challenge than figuring out the theme.  To put it simply, it is the story of five generations of a family, played out in one setting, a restaurant, and enacted by only eight actors, so the names/roles change in an instant with barely a costume addition or deletion.  It is to the credit of all the actors, who are exceptional, in keeping any sort of order at all.  But, as mentioned in the program, “…the time-lapse actor switching can be confusing…sometimes you have to play catch-up…but you do catch-up.”

Perhaps the best way of explaining it is that Allen Nause and Vana O’Brien play the roles of the older folks in the story; Val Landrum and Scott Lowell play them at middle ages; Britt Harris and Andy Lee-Hillstrom enact them as young people and Agatha Olson and Harper Lea are the characters as children.  On a blind date, two people meet at an unnamed restaurant and from there, they marry (with the consent of their parents), have two children who, in turn have children, until finally, the surviving member of the original clan is a great-grandmother.

The family, like all families to some degree, is dysfunctional.  There are affairs; partings, new beginnings; children being born, some never surviving; old age dilemmas, new age challenges; and always the bickering, bawling, brawling, blessings and beauty of an ordinary family bearing their souls and saying, perhaps, do you know these people?  Are they your neighbors?  Are they…you?!

Yes, the story is difficult to follow at times, so you have to focus.  But, as mentioned, you do figure out most of the who is who and the relationships in the end.  All the actors are amazing in keeping the story flowing at a break-neck pace.  How they can keep it straight for themselves is beyond me.  The two youngest performers, Olson and Lea, are quite good and keep up easily with their grown-up counterparts.  And the ole pros, Nause and O’Brien, are always a welcome sight on the stage.  Their years “on the boards” have raised the level of Portland theatres up several notches.  “May they live long and prosper.”  And Landrum, Lowell, Harris, and Lee-Hillstrom are their equals in this show.  They mix and match, rise and fall as their characters in a seamless way.  Bravo!

And Rodriguez had the hardest task, as he had to keep all the roles straight in his head, as well as coaching the actors as to fine-tuning each individual character.  He was also finding moments of calm in the storms, which slackened the pace just enough to give a scene emphasis, the actors a breather and the audience a moment to sort things out.  His expertise shows through, as he managed to present it all with ease and style.

I would recommend this show but it might not be for everybody, as it employs rough language at times.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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