It’s the kind of hoopla “Brides” magazine doesn’t warn you about. The room is seething with people in formal attire — dancing, eating wedding cake, cracking open the gift boxes that stand in ivory-colored stacks. But someone is brandishing a cheese grater; and there is hanky-panky involving moon boots. What is that girl doing with the blades of the hand mixer? And what is that red stuff that’s suddenly everywhere?
This episode is one of many eye-catching moments in the Hub Theatre’s enjoyably energetic staging of Charles L. Mee’s “Big Love.” Inventively directed by Kirsten Kelly, and given a dreamlike incarnation by able designers, the production often deploys its actors in aerobic routines — a push-up circle, a sequence of flouncing tumbles — that emphasize the frustrations generated by desire and social expectation.
Inspired by Aeschylus’ “The Suppliant Women,” Mee’s quirky “Big Love” follows 50 sisters who shun arranged marriages with a comparable number of brothers. When the would-be husbands follow the fleeing women to a Mediterranean retreat, the upshot is negotiations, philosophizing, violence and the horrific waste of 49 boutonnieres.
That might sound like a lot of spectacle for a small theater company to evoke, but Mee’s script allows for suggestiveness — a quality Kelly and her designers ingeniously exploit. Scenic designer Natsu Onoda Power creates ocean surf from an orange satin sheet and carves out a helicopter cockpit in the space behind a painting of cherubs. And Debra Kim Sivigny speeds the storytelling with her costume designs, including a bevy of distressed wedding dresses.
Lydia (Sarah Douglas) is wearing one of those dresses in the slightly stiff opening scene, which has the actress hiking through the audience seating area and clambering onto the stage. The sisters have trekked to the villa of Piero (David Bryan Jackson, acting suitably oily), a codger who fails to prevent the arrival of the pursuing grooms. In one of the production’s highlights, the macho brothers — wearing flight suits over tuxedos — rappel out of the helicopter as chopper-blade noises churn around them. (Matthew M. Nielson designed the sound.)
Michael Kevin Darnall is wonderfully thuggish as the gum-chewing brother Constantine, while David Zimmerman radiates apt uncertainty as Nikos, and Josh Sticklin nails the characterization of the dimwitted Oed. In other expressive turns, Kristen Garaffo bounces around chirpily as the flighty sister Olympia, and Claire Carroll displays fine comic timing as Piero’s indomitable mother.
Jessica Aimone glowers fiercely as the surly sister Thyona, whose outbursts give the play a political edge. “If there is no justice, there can be no love, because there can be no love that is not freely offered, and it cannot be free unless every person has equal standing,” she insists. In a production stocked with whimsy and wry calisthenics, such social comment is a welcome bonus, like a tossed bouquet.
Wren is a freelance writer.
by Charles L. Mee. Directed by Kirsten Kelly; lighting design, Joel Moritz; props design, Suzanne Maloney; choreography, Susan Shields; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba; associate director, Matt Bassett; music direction, Carla Gerdes and Michael Gerdes. With S. Lewis Feemster, Genna Davidson, Ocean Bianchi and Chelsea Townsend. About 100 minutes. Through Aug. 5 at the John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Ct., Fairfax. 800-494-8497 or www.thehubtheatre.org.