Wednesday, November 09, 2016

“The Big Meal” doesn’t fill one up much

The Big Meal (Chris Monsos)
The Big Meal
New Century Theatre Company
Through November 19, 2016

New Century Theatre Company aka NCTC has done some wonderful productions and for this play, The Big Meal, they have assembled a really good cast of actors and a good director, Makaela Pollock. This particular script by Dan LeFranc, however, didn’t convince me that it was essential to produce.

Since NCTC programs itself, it’s not always clear what drives them to choose the works they choose. In this case, this play is a progression of scenes over the course of one couple’s journey through meeting cute at a casual-dining restaurant and spanning some 40 or 50 years of their life together. Some have compared it to A Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder.

The distinction of this script is the kind of stop-action instantaneous change of weeks or months or even years between lines. In the middle of a scene between two characters, it suddenly becomes clear that it is no longer the first time they met and now it is several x’s later and they are now talking about a different moment in their relationship. That’s an interesting device, and the cast members, who all have to accomplish that, including two young actors who manage a fair amount of complex business, manage those transitions pretty cleanly.

Another distinction is the eating of a “last meal” that starts out as a bit funny but becomes more clearly sad each time it happens. Jonelle Jordan “plays” a wait-staffer whose only job is to deliver the meal, each time. It’s a fairly thankless role, though she imbues it with as much empathy as she can. I just kept wondering why the actors had to eat so very much on each plate…and it looks much more like tv dinner food than stuff you’d actually order at that restaurant.

The best reasons to see this show are the actors. Hannah Mootz and Conner Neddersen begin the play as the young couple who try to not even call what they’re doing a date. It’s a harsh beginning and doesn’t turn into the marriage. Yet. After a while, Betsy Schwartz and Darragh Kennan meet again and this time, it works and they finally get hitched. Later, Todd Jefferson Moore and Amy Thone become the grandparents.

There are actually a bunch more characters that each actor plays – Thone gets to be the young couple’s grandma first and is a hoot as she drinks and dances up a storm at their wedding. Everyone is constantly being someone new, so that takes a bit of following.

Two young actors, Darragh’s daughter Maire Kennan and Julian Mudge-Burns become the obligatory sets of offspring. They have some complicated moments of speaking at the same time as everyone else, but unfortunately are mostly called upon to act bratty to each other.

Much of what happens is fairly mundane and only one child seems to have any particular personality defect. They live, love, go to school or don’t, get jobs or get fired, live in various places, have children or don’t, get married or divorced, die. What else would one expect?

Thornton Wilder, in Our Town and in the Christmas Dinner one-act, tries to get people to understand that they should pay more attention in the moment. His point is that we take our present for granted. And perhaps that we might enjoy life more if we didn’t do that.

This play may strive for a similar message, but for me, it was one meal with mostly empty calories. For more information, go to www.wearenctc.org or call (253) 906-3348.