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Friday, September 22, 2023


Adult play hits big stage

Directed by Leslie Swackhamer, the School of Theatre & Dance presents Big Love this weekend at the Wortham Theatre. | Steven Oster/The Daily Cougar

With marriage, murder and mayhem included, the appropriately titled play Big Love by Charles Mee is an epic experience not to be missed by UH students. This weekend, the UH School of Theatre & Dance will perform a collaborative performance.

“Mee’s works are always interesting and this one is no exception,” director Leslie Swackhamer said in an e-mail. “This play is a comedy, but it is extremely violent and very physical. Audiences should expect an over-the-top, visceral experience. It’s a wild riff on the permutations of love … the good, the bad and the ugly.”

The melodramatic theme is centralized around various dualities of men and women when it comes to relationships. The story follows women who wish to marry for love rather than pursue their pre-arranged marriages over a backdrop of an Italian villa.

“One must come in with an open mind; this is no typical performance,” actor Bryan Kaplun said. “This work is so expressionistic it goes beyond relying on being vulnerably realistic to the audience … the audience gains more than a usual theatre layout. They get sucked in instantly by all of the artistic platforms that are being presented.”

Big Love is written by two-time Obie Award winner and American Academy of Arts and Letters lifetime achievement award in drama recipient Mee. It debuted in 2000, at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky., and is based on Aeschylus’ Greek drama The Suppliants.

“The show is unique, in that it shows different perspectives of the male and female machismos,” UH theater student Luis Gonzalez said. “The audience gets all dynamics of various outlooks on love, passion, relationships and what marriage should be.”

The premiere production brings new physical and emotional challenges to UH students and faculty concurrently. The show pulls faculty members, Teresa Chapman (choreographer), Brian Byrnes (combat coordinator), Robert Shimko (dramaturgist) and guest artist and director Leslie Swackhamer together to join the student cast of actors and dancers together with performing guest artists David Rainey from the Alley Theatre as Piero/Leo and acclaimed dancer Krissy Richmond as Bella/Eleanor.

“Its so wonderful to work in a collaborative atmosphere. It’s been a new experience for me as a choreographer,” UH assistant dance professor Teresa Chapman said. “Working with non-dancers/actors has been somewhat of a learning experience for me. As well as the ensemble of 12, the actors have been wonderful in picking up movement, but it also helps me to develop new ideas on what works best for the piece and manipulate it to fit the needs of the actors and dancers simultaneously.”

Many of the UH student actors have never danced in a production prior to their participation in Big Love, and with the overzealous nature of the playwright, the physical demands that the show requires finds some actors in new territory.

“For the most part, student actors don’t always get a chance to incorporate expressionistic dancing with our acting,” Kaplun said. “It adds to our repertoire. It give us a more dynamic device of expression that goes further than words, that goes further than what we learn in class.”

Big Love runs today through Sunday and March 4-7 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts’ Wortham Theater.

Show times are 8 p.m. today and Saturday and March 4-6 and 2 p.m. Sunday and March 7. Tickets are $20 for the general public and $10 for UH students.

“Big Love offers a strong theme that is serious and tragic,” Chapman said, “but just when the audience feels too harsh a temperament, there lies a hilarious undertone to contrast the solemn storyline, one that is enjoyable for all.”

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