When I first heard the title of The American Theater Company’s new production, “The Big Meal”, my mind started to think of an adaptation of a movie made several years ago about two brothers who had a simple restaurant that they had hoped would become famous when Luis Prima would come for dinner- this is not based on that, or anything like that. Dan LeFranc’s story is an 80 minute ( no intermission) presentation of the changes in life for a young couple, from meeting, to dating, to marriage, to grandchildren and even great grandchildren and death. Yes, all of these lives are brought to us in a matter of 80 busy minutes of activity, the majority of the time spent in a restaurant or at a family holiday feast.
Directed by Dexter Bullard, this is a roller coaster ride of emotions as we watch our cast of 8 change roles as the years go on. There are times of confusion for us, the audience, as it is easy to get lost in the years moving along as our young couple become an older couple, as the young cast members become their own kids and so on. Only the actual children in the play, are always children, but not always the same children. The stage is fairly empty, only using tables and chairs as the need arises for either more or less, the off stage actors waiting in what looks to be a “bull pen” as they are on-deck to return as someone else. This is a story of love and five generations of a family with the action centered around a dinner table and as each of the characters nears the end of their life, a special meal is served to them as the other cast members “freeze”. This shows the importance of the last and the “Big Meal” as life goes on, at least until, the matriarch ( Peggy Roeder who portrays all the mothers and grandmothers of generations as the time goes on) sits before a table, now with only one chair and the lights dim.
There is no real set or fancy costumes to speak of, but there are some very good lighing effects (Brian Sidney Bembridge) and Joel William Lambie’s props, again simple ( unless we consider the meals as props) make what we are seeing somewhat realistic. The cast is solid and keeps the play moving along. As I said, there are some confusing who’s-who along the way and if you get lost, I don’t think you can keep us. The two youngsters in the show, Noah Schwartz and Emily Leahy are very strong but in several scenes , they were hard to hear. All of the adults were strong in bringing their characters to life and being very different from the other parts they played: Will Zahrn, Lia D. Mortensen,Andrew Goetten,Philip Earl Johnson and Lindsay Leopold.
There is some “language” in this production that may not be suitable for children, yet, ATC, will be working with some of Chicago’s high schools to expose them to theater and life cycles and then these students will come up with their own scenes that will be presented at the theater located at 1909 West Byron Street ( just east of Lincoln Avenue and south of Irving Park Road) at future dates. I, for one, am not so sure that the version as is should be seen by high school students, not for the story, which is everyone’s story:life, love,divorce,death and survival for those who remain behind. To see for yourself, “The Big Meal” will continue at ATC through March 6th, with performances Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $35-$50 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-409-4125 or online at www.atcweb.org
Parking on the street (metered) is fairly easy to find and there is a metered lot on the corner of Lincoln and Bernice. I understand that Sola Restaurant just east of lincoln on Byron has some specials connected to the production, allowing you to have a “Big Meal” before or after the show. I am sure that the website will fill you in on these specials.