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The Big Meal

a Comedy/Drama
by Dan LeFranc

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : OnStage Atlanta 3041 N. Decatur [WEBSITE]
ID# 5481

SHOWING : April 26, 2019 - May 12, 2019



Big-hearted, funny, and richly satisfying, this play dishes up laughter and tears. From the vantage point of a single restaurant table, share the moments, both epic and intimate, that make a life.
Somewhere in America, in a typical suburban restaurant on a typical night, Sam and Nicole first meet. Sparks fly. And so begins an expansive tale that traverses five generations of a modern family, from first kiss to final goodbye. A theatrically inventive and beautiful play about the love, trials, and the resilience of families.

Director Jeffery Brown
Man 2 Brandon Michael Mitchell
Woman 1 Cathe Hall Payne
Woman 2 Melissa Rainey
Man 1 Paul Spadafora
Man 3 Jon Vertullo
Woman 3 Katie Wickline
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Acid Flash Reflux
by playgoer
Monday, May 20, 2019
It takes a while to get used to the theatrical conventions in Dan LeFranc’s "The Big Meal." Two characters say a few lines, then they make a subtle movement and suddenly they’re in another scene at a later time. Then those two actors are replaced by two older actors to represent the characters at an older age, while the younger actors start playing different characters, often children of the older actors. There are three sets of actors playing the same couple (Sam and Nicole) over a lifetime, so it sometimes takes a conscious effort to remember who’s playing what when. Extended wordless death scenes accompanied by special lighting and droning music occur more and more frequently as the play goes on. Naturalistic overlapping dialogue and multiple ongoing conversations ensure that the audience will miss some of what’s going on.

Onstage Atlanta’s set in its lovely new building was designed by Barry N. West. It’s not a wow-er -- just walls with tile wainscoting below and restaurant collages above, two benches to either side and three restaurant tables with chairs in the center. Openings up left and up right allow entry and egress. The scenes take place at the tables, with adult actors sitting to the sides or upstage when they are not participating in a particular scene. Tom Gillespie’s lighting design is pretty much general illumination except for the death scenes and a dance scene. Charlie Miller’s sound design really comes into play only during those lighting changes. Joan Cooper’s costumes don’t attempt to alter actors’ appearances in their split-second transitions from one to another.

Since the show takes place in a restaurant, most of the props from designers Cathe Hall Payne and Angie Short are food and drink-related, although there are a few gifts handed out. Ms. Short acts as a server, bringing out glasses and dishes and clearing things away before leaving. The food props are garishly colored, looking like pink meat and mint green mashed potatoes. At least they’re edible, as we watch people clean their plates at leisure.

Director Jeffery Brown has done a splendid job of getting the actors to behave and speak in a very realistic way for a family ranged round a restaurant table, with lots of interruptions from children (Elsie Johnson and Jackson Doyle, both quite good) and lots of dynamic levels. His blocking keeps everything visible, with a minimum of table rearrangement between scenes. Pacing is superb, except for the interminable death scenes.

All the actors are quite capable, but there’s not always a great deal of difference between one of their characters and the next, and no apparent attempt to have characters played by different actors at different ages to have specific identifying idiosyncrasies. Jon Vertullo does a very good job transitioning from his role as a son to the roles of a series of boyfriends, but the differences tend to blur as one boyfriend transitions to the next in just a couple of lines. Jackson Doyle does a nice job distinguishing a bratty brother near the start from a more polite grandson near the end. Everyone else makes changes too, but the vocal and physical alterations are generally subtle.

"The Big Meal" uses a contemporary vocabulary throughout, with a lot of four-letter words. As such, the time line from the start of the relationship to old age seems a bit compressed. There’s an attempt in the script to show a change in attitude over time to culturally insensitive jokes, but it seems more an obvious ploy than an organic part of the plot.

All in all, Onstage Atlanta is inaugurating its new space with a play that is more style than substance, and not necessarily a style that creates theatrical magic. We see the journey of a couple from initial meeting to commitment to marital problems that instantly seem to heal themselves to allow a transition into an old age together. It’s a bunch of tiny scenes that are equivalent to flipping through a family photo album in a room full of competing conversations. Interesting enough when the family is your own; less so when the family is a fictional bunch whose identities blur into one another. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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