Theater Reviews
6:01 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

The Gamm’s “The Big Meal” Is Satisfying

Wendy Overly, Richard Donelly, Steve Kidd, Emeline Easton in Gamm's production of The Big Meal.
Credit Peter Goldberg / The Gamm Theatre

In an interview concerning the New York production of “The Big Meal” the 33- year-old author, Dan LeFranc, makes a point of saying that his own growing up saw, quote, “lots of support but also a ton of friction and fear.”  And that was “critical in making me the kind of writer and person I am today,” he added.

Well, that would be a guy who has sharp instincts both for the jugular and the heart. “The Big Meal” checks out those eight folks in all kinds of ways.

His people can be young and fun and sweet. They can be middle-aged and depressed and disappointed, filled with anger, and desire to get out. They can be sweetly old but terrified of checking out. They can be, . . . well . . . all of us.

Under tight and insightful direction by Trinity Rep’s Tyler Dobrowsky and with Michael McGarty’s splendid set remindful of an Edward  Hopper all-American painting, the eight-member cast is terrific handling multiple roles with conviction.

From Richard Donelly’s cantankerous, oh-so-goofy joking old timer to Karen Carpenter and Steve Kidd’s ever-so fluxed and yearning middle-agers, to Amanda Ruggiero and Joe Short’s flirty, sexy, wide-eyed young folks, the actors are right-on, accurate without being obvious about it.

Add in Wendy Overly’s old lady who will bring tears to your heart and two wonderfully gleeful --  and mighty mischievous – kiddos played by Emeline Easton and Elliot Peters, and you have a crackling production of play that that could be a disaster in lesser hands.

With all that said, “The Big Meal” can at times seem a little cantankerous, loud, over-wrought. It has more pugilism than pleasantry. There’s lots of foul language and references to body parts not generally mentioned in, ahh, polite company.

Playwright LeFranc happily admits that “The Big Meal” was inspired by Thornton Wilder’s 1931 one-act family drama, “The Long Christmas Dinner.” I’ve not seen nor read that play but I’d imagine it is a bit more shall we say “contained” than is “The Big Meal.”

But, then, we do live in a let-it-all-hang-out time. And that is just what LeFranc’s work does. In that New York interview he said “my creativity was born out of wounds” and that, at bottom, a playwright must write his own truths.

That seems to have been achieved in this excellent 90-minute intermission-less production at the Gamm. “The Big Meal” is a big success, almost in spite of itself.

Want to Go?

“The Big Meal” continues at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through February 9th.

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