Mayhem is about to erupt on the Gundlach Theatre Stage as Heidelberg University presents "Big Love" by Charles Mee. The performances - for mature audiences, only - are at 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
This tragicomedy is based on an ancient play, "The Suppliant Women," by the Greek author, Aeschylus. Both stories explore the fate of 50 women, unwilling brides-to-be, who arrive in Italy on a ship. They have fled from Greece to avoid arranged marriages to their cousins.
"Big Love" is set in modern-day Italy and retains the original themes of revenge and justice, expanded with contemporary American themes such as date rape, domestic abuse, gender inequality and cultural expectations. The main characters are three of the 50 women: Lydia, Thyona and Olympia, played by Hannah Crocker, Katelyn Hough and Leigh Barthel.
PHOTO BY DON GROFF
Having escaped their waiting bridegrooms, the fugitive brides Olympia, Lydia and Thyona laugh together, safe for the moment, in the villa of the kindly Piero in this scene from “Big Love.” Pictured from left are Leigh Barthel, Hannah Crocker and Katelyn Hough.
The soft, pre-show music features familiar wedding selections to contrast the action that is a about to unfold.
Pachbel's "Canon" plays as the wet, bedraggled Lydia stumbles in, removes her torn bridal dress and sinks into a bathtub. Before long, Guilliano comes to greet her. Played by Greg King, he makes his non-traditional sexual preference obvious. The place she has entered is a private villa, where weekend guests are expected to arrive. Lydia has mistaken the place for a hotel, so she apologizes, explains their situation and begs for "asylum." Taken aback, Guilliano offers her some wine and leaves to notify his brother, Piero, who owns the villa.
Meanwhile, Thyona and Olympia drag in a trunk full of wedding gifts and set about smashing them on the floor as they belt out "You Don't Own Me."
Hearing the noise, the men's mother, Bella, enters and congratulates the ladies on their wedding day. Thyona immediately informs her they do not intend to get married today or any time soon, because all men are scum.
Bella proceeds to talk about her 13 sons. Although she loves them all, some have disappointed her very much. As she describes each one, she takes a tomato from a basket, placing six on a table and smashing the others on the floor.
Piero, played by Kyle Adam, is next to appear. He seems concerned about the mess but says nothing about it. He asks the women why he should help them, since he knows nothing about them.
Perhaps the abandoned men have their own sides of the story to tell. Lydia says they are standing before him, in need of assistance that he seems able to supply. That's why he should help them.
Thyona is more direct. If he won't help them, maybe they will hang themselves in his lovely villa. Remaining cordial, Piero invites them to dinner and to rest from their "travels." Later, they will discuss their options.
While he is away, the sound of helicopters can be heard and three men descend from the sky. They are Constantine, Nikos and Oed, portrayed by Adam Hoover, Erick Gobel and Jordan Duncan, respectively. The dumped bridegrooms have come to reclaim their women.
Nikos, Lydia's partner, immediately goes to her and asks what has happened. Why did they run?
Constantine, Thyona's betrothed, is the most aggressive. He has a contract that promises her as his spouse, and he intends to do anything necessary to collect.
The others agree they have been counting on these marriages all their lives.
After witnessing this exchange, Piero leads the men away to relax and calm themselves. Enraged at the men's pursuit, Thyona launches into a full-blown tantrum, throwing herself on the floor, ranting against all men.
Soon, Olympia joins in as Lydia briefly watches in amazement before participating with her two "sisters."
Finally, the trio collapses, exhausted, into the bathtub. Bella brings in some wedding gifts that have been delivered and reminisces about her own beloved mate, now deceased.
The women meet two of the guests, Leo and Eleanor, portrayed by Matt Echelberry and Brittany Green. The pair is determined to enjoy every minute together, because love can blossom at any time. Olympia agrees with her and says she believes someone "out there" is a perfect match for her. Thyona is not convinced any male can make her happy, and she doesn't want to spend her life constantly angry.
Besides, she says she can take care of herself.
Nikos returns and profess his love for Lydia, but he is hesitant to force himself on her. They share a tender moment before Lydia departs without a word. Stunned, Nikos slumps onto the floor, moaning about doing everything he was supposed to do and she still has rejected him.
Now it is the men's turn to act out as Constantine and Oed rant about the complexities of society's expectations of men. They take turns spouting and pushing one another around in fits of intense frustration, ending up in a heap that mirrors that of the women.
As the host, Piero decides to allow the weddings to take place for those who may still want to take their vows. He believes some of the couples can reach a "compromise."
A cake is brought in, along with new white dresses for the three women. Feeling there is no one to support the women's wish to choose their own mates, Thyona is determined to take matters into her own hands. She convinces Olympia and Lydia and the rest of the women to kill the grooms, if they are forced to marry against their will.
The wedding scene, which includes some same-sex couples, begins sweetly enough but turns into a bloodbath with brides wielding spears, swords, pistols and other weapons. Confetti "blood" flows freely against the white gowns as male bodies drop to the floor.
The angry bride chorus is comprised of Samantha Buglewicz, Amanda Chaney, Erin Crenshaw, Makenzie Dietrich, Chaylene Hardy and Meredith Higgins. The terrified groom chorus includes Jacob Belko, Devin Croley, Shane Ramsey, Taylor Schulmeiser and Dwight Thompson.
When the dust clears, Lydia and Nikos are embracing. She could not bring herself to kill the man who is now her husband. Olympia regrets the murder she has just committed, but Thyona accuses Lydia of breaking the pact with her sisters. Some kind of punishment is in order.
Bella offers to stage a trial for Lydia and serve as judge. She makes an eloquent appeal for everyone to believe in the power of love.
"Love is the highest law," Bella says.
She declares no one is to be punished, and all are to be forgiven to allow healing to take place. She even invites the women to stay with her until they recover from their trauma.
Before departing as man and wife, Lydia throws her bouquet and Nikos tosses the garter into the hands of Guilliano.
Kathy Miller is directing "Big Love," with Kate Tucci as stage manager. The sound techs did a good job of following their cues for music and sound effects, and the light crew made sure the audience didn't miss anything. Those working props and costumes also had to stay alert to keep up with the fast pace and lack of intermission.
No tickets are being sold for "Big Love" performances, but donations are to be accepted.