I’m coming clean: Before seeing The Big Meal last week at Playwrights Horizons, I had no idea that calamari is a shellfish. You knew that, right? It’s a mollusk, which I kind of knew is shellfish – I have always known that – but I never connected that to calamari. Anyway, I learned that calamari is a shellfish from watching The Big Meal. +1 for going to the theatre!
Showing now through April 22nd at Playwrights Horizons, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal about public conversations over three generations lets the audience listen in on intimate family moments of joy and despair. At once uncomfortable and comforting, the conversations during The Big Meal are intense, but fluid. They flow quickly and frenetically, rising in ferocity and then asking the audience to wait through long, drawn-out moments of quiet expectation. The compact theatre creates a true feeling of eavesdropping on private conversations, allowing the audience to share in the joys, the anger, and the despair of the family. By the end of the play, I felt cleansed of bitter humors; it was a true catharsis.
LeFranc has managed to recreate true-to-life family drama in his script. The children’s conversations (“Do pigs poo bacon?”) could be lifted out of any family’s visit to a diner. And the date conversations felt both awkward and sweet. However, it is the later conversations, between parents and their grown children that really hit home. The scenes take us through handling “kind of racist” jokes by a father-in-law to a couple admitting dalliances outside their marriage to dealing with death. And then doing it all again.
The symbolism of The Big Meal in characters’ lives was heart-wrenching, and the audience learned to dread and resent the arrival of The Waitress carrying a hot meal. A silent theatre is rare, but this theatre’s quiet moments were stuffed full of acceptance, mourning, and tears
The ensemble cast was superb in their ever-changing roles. Anita Gillette and Tom Bloom were especially moving in their scenes together. In the small space, real tears are easy to spot. The Big Meal will leave you spent, thankful, and satisfied. Highly recommended.
For those of us with young children, two of the shows for The Big Meal have dates paired with Playtime! – an affordable childcare service right in the Playwrights Horizons building. On March 24th and 31st, you can register to drop the kids off for art and music activities for the duration of the show for just $15 per child. My son has been twice now and loves it. I just may have to see The Big Meal again.
For subscription and ticket information to all Playwrights Horizons productions, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, Noon to 8 pm daily, or purchase online at the Ticket Central website at www.TicketCentral.org.