The Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department brought love and life to Charles L. Mee’s production “Big Love” under the direction of Jenni-Lynn Brick.
A modern adaptation of Aeschylus’ “The Suppliants”, “Big Love” tells the story of six sister brides who are bound by the laws of arranged marriage and attempt to seek refuge from their grooms who desire to take their hands in matrimony.
Under the obvious theme of love, the play also explores the depths of gender politics, the dichotomy of gender emotions as well as independence.
The audience is introduced to the first bride Lydia (April Singer), who removes her shoes and wedding dress until her bare-naked body hops into a bathtub to experience some quiet and peaceful relaxation.
Gulillano (Mario Vargas Jr.) soon enters the stage in utter surprise to see a random stranger in his uncle’s estate. After background conversation between Lydia and Gulillano, the drove of the remaining sisters arrives lugging the burden of their baggage.
The ensemble of siblings includes Thyona (Lexie-Lynn Harding), Athena (Emily Schupp), Olympia (Asia Washington), Freyja (Ashlyn Armstrong) and Flora (Tori Ortega).
Upon their entrance, Olympia showcases their resentment of the grooms on ukulele singing “You Don’t Own Me”, popularized by singer Leslie Gore.
Bella (Gabrielle Gutierrez), Gulillano’s grandmother, unintentionally interrupts their serenade introducing herself and sluggishly retelling accounts of her 13 sons and their individual lives to emphasize the consequences of independence and free will.
She serves as the motherly figure to the bride sisters, reminiscing about her past loves in hopes to inspire them to take advantage of the opportunity despite disagreeing on such marriage practices.
Gulillano’s uncle, Pierro (Andrew Aguilar) remains skeptical about taking them as refugees knowing absolutely nothing of the sisters’ backgrounds or motives. He ultimately reveals his Italian hospitality and takes them in.
Interrupting the brides’ short-lived celebration, their potential grooms arrive in helicopters in matching jumpsuits, helmets and aviator shades to make their arguments.
The groom ensemble included: Nikos (Abel Miramontes), the strong but sensitive leader of the grooms, Constantine (John Lee Gray), who possess brash masculinity, Oed (Adel Diab), the unrestrained and bewildered, Ajax (Zeke Espinosa) the touchy-feely one and Taren (Brandon Burns) the timid and apologetic follower.
Throughout the play, the sisters slowly begin to change their minds, but revert back to their original sentiment as Thyona warns them of the consequences these marriages will eventually bring.
Thyona, the fervent feminist as the raging force against the grooms, is fearless with her adamant perspective that all men are malicious and will use their power to take advantage of whatever and whomever they desire.
Disgusted by the opinions that differ from her own, Thyona comes out of the darkness only to voice her drastic proposal that ultimately turns the show upside down.
Springer as the leading lady, Lydia explores gentleness and empathy of women as well as her confusion as she is eventually conflicted with her sisterly love and the love towards a man.
Springer’s dynamic progression of Lydia on the cusp of love and hatred for her groom also highlights the difficulties women endure when dealing with such dilemmas concerning relationships.
Harding as the keen Thyona beautifully portrays and embraces the aggression of femininity. Her bold and daring claims that “none of them are good” also revealed her stubborn responses to the male gender.
Throughout the play, Harding’s character is seen isolated from the cast on stage in the shadows of the set design, which conveys her dark sentiments toward the groom’s advances as a collective.
Not only does “Big Love” focus on the complexities of the female mentality, it also delves into man’s sensitivity and understanding of others.
Miramontes’ special charm of the sensitive Niko as the leading groom delves into man’s sympathy. With his honest longing for a genuine relationship, he shares the patience and thoughtfulness that the male gender is truly capable of.
His character eliminates an old tradition and deliberately chooses to grow closer in relationship to his intended bride, Lydia, not by law or contract, but by the powerful force of love.
Mario Vargas Jr. stole the show and captured the laughs of the crowd with his excellent performance as the flamboyantly gay Gulillano.
Vargas’ colorful persona met the audience’s loud applause and cheers as he strutted around the set in a wedding veil wearing white bridal evening gloves with “Chapel of Love” faintly playing in the background.
The set design of the Italian villa combines the ancient and the modern with the pure, clean whiteness of the pillars and their S-shaped curvature.
The inward bent of the pillars towards the villa’s center captures the essence of a prison rather than the brides’ sanctuary. Although the brides initially sought escape, their hopes were ripped away with the arrival of the grooms, as they soon realized there seemed to be no escape.
This sophisticated blend of comedy and tragedy brought the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre to laughs and tears.
For more information, visit the The Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department website.