A Collision of Risk and Craft
Darragh Kennan, Artistic Director of New Century Theatre stated in the program notes of their latest production, The Big Meal, that NTC is interested in “the collision of risk and craft.” They may be INTERESTED in the COLLISION of risk and craft, but what I saw was an inspired perfect ALLOY of risk and craft, creating something that was more potent than either pure element.
The set and staging of The Big Meal, created the perfect medium to express the subject matter; the “moments” in our lives which define and reinforce our connection to our families. With an outstanding cast, an exceptionally able director, Makaela Pollock, a superb set, effective sound & lighting and a Master playwright, Dan LeFranc, the Big Meal served up a scrumptious evening.
Designed by Carol Wolfe Clay, the set was a non-table-cloth restaurant with plastic covered menus and ketchup bottles on the tables. It would not have looked out of place in 1958 or even today. All the action takes place there, without traditional scene breaks, as one scene seamlessly changes into another, while the emotional history of five generations of one family unfolds.
It starts out with the first kiss of a youngish couple, moves to their proposal, children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, engagement parties, reunions pleasant and excruciatingly unpleasant, the deaths of parents & children, all told with hilarious wit, as well as compassionate tenderness.
So creative was LeFranc that he actually created a new original image of death, which did not have its origin in any religion or culture known to me. It was not the Christian/Catholic image of arriving at the pearly gates and meeting St. Peter. It was not the ancient Greek image of crossing the river Styx, the boundary between the Earth and the underworld. LeFranc’s new image, in keeping with the restaurant theme, for the passage from life to death, was fascinating in itself but was enhanced by the impressive sound and lighting effects by Johanna Melamed and Andrew D. Smith, respectively. Although there was humor galore in The Big Meal, the scenes of death evoked the same solemnity as the great Requiem Masses of Mozart and a host of other great composers etc.
Speaking of the sound, the pre-show music added to the enjoyment: There was light Jazz, as well as Marvin Gaye’s “ I heard it through the Grapevine” adding just the right touch to introduce the audience to the first couple of scenes.
If you think Woody Allen wrote the funniest, wittiest dialogue for atrociously awkward first dates, think again. LeFranc’s lines, delivered by Hannah Mootz and Conner Neddersen positively made me squirm in my seat with embarrassment for the two vulnerable characters they portrayed, as they danced a verbal tango around intimacy, sexual attraction and fear.
The rest of the cast, who kept switching characters without any confusion, put in excellent performances: Darragh Kennan, Todd Jefferson Moore, Betsy Schwarz , Amy Thone, Jonelle Jordan and the children, Marie Kennan and Julian Mudge-Burns.
The Big Meal depicted all the emotional upheavals in families: bonding, separation, reconciliation, love and loss, with delicacy, wit and sensitivity. And it served up humongous servings of life.
The Big Meal. New Century Theatre. 12th Ave Arts 1620-12th Ave, Seattle, 98122 (Capitol Hill Corner of 12th Ave and Pine) Thurs 7:30, Fri, Sat 8:00; Sun 4:00 thru Nov 19.