When you first walk into the Randolph Centre for the Performing Arts’ Annex Theatre during the Toronto Fringe, you are struck by a musty darkness. Tonight was a little different though. Although the smell was still there, the stage was not barren. Rather, it was populated by a half-naked DJ, pumping the jams in high heels and a gold lame mask, ready to celebrate Big Love. And that’s when the party started.
Big Love tells the story of 50 reluctant brides, who escape to Italy to avoid marriage to 50 cousins. As they try to talk their way into an estate, the cousins arrive to claim their women. The battle of wills has begun.
As someone who likes a lot of story in my drama, this very much felt like a 20-minute play stretched out over 70 minutes.
There was a moment, however, when I thought the playwright (Charles L. Mee) might reach for something more than a steroidal rendition of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A couple times, the speeches floated to the plight of refugees and women pushed to the edge, abandoned by their families, communities and countries.
For that fleeting moment, I wondered if the mass marriage was a metaphor for a larger message about slavery and subjugation. I walked away disappointed in this regard.
That being said, the actors’ performances were generally quite good. In particular, I tip my fedora to Matt Lacas (Piero) who I felt did a wonderful job as the perpetual salesman and host, stuck between the warring camps and knowing no one could ever be happy.
I also greatly enjoyed Rosie Callaghan (Olympia) who I felt gave a scintillating performance as a young woman struggling with a personal civil war of self-identification versus the need to be loved.
The choreography feels like a work in progress, however, the many numbers feeling slightly or grossly out of step. And although the women seemed to move smoothly enough, I saw little synchrony in the men’s numbers. And then the unexplained flinging of bodies to the ground completely baffled me.
What I thought the actors lacked in coordination, however, I felt they more than made up for in vocal skills. Each of the handful of songs felt like a masterpiece in harmonies, most sung acapella. For me, these were the magical moments in the performance and left me wishing the entire play had been set to music.
Had Big Love been even a third shorter, I might have enjoyed it. But I didn’t feel my dissatisfaction was for lack of effort on the parts of the performers.
- Big Love is playing until July 12 at the Randolph Centre for the Arts — Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst Street)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- Warnings: Strobe Light, Smoking, Fog Machine, Sexual Content, Graphic Violence, Mature Language
July 06 at 10:15 PM
July 07 at 04:00 PM
July 08 at 01:45 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 12 at 07:30 PM
Photo of Brittany Banks, Delaney Barth, Rayna Burchell, Rosie Callaghan, Rashaana Cumberbatch, Elodie Dorsel, Kayla Gerber, Cindy Goh, Emily Nash, Tala Nazzal, Danielle Oswald, Sofia Rodrigues, Danielle Sparrow, Shannon Tosic-McNally provided by istoica.