Review: The Big Meal (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 18 – Nov 4, 2017
Playwright: Dan LeFranc
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Cormac Costello, Emily Dreyer, Angus Evans, Suzann James, David Jeffrey, Tasha O’Brien, Brendan Paul, Kaitlyn Thor
Image by Katy Green Loughey

Theatre review
Things happen very quickly in Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal. Nicole and Sam meet at a restaurant, and their lives flash before our eyes, from courtship and marriage, through to childbirth, sickness and death. The play is not about the peculiarities of any of the characters we meet. In some ways, it is about the insignificance of the individual existences we believe ourselves to inhabit. Taking the “circle of life” approach, LeFranc attempts to chart the journey of a human being, from beginning to inevitable end.

It is the idea of a “typical” person that The Big Meal is concerned with, but it cannot go unnoticed, that it is strictly an American middle class heterosexual paradigm that it is interested in depicting. In the play, the people do little but give birth, raise children, and repeat. It is not the intention of the work to include a wider scope of what these characters are capable of, or indeed the other responsibilities that they doubtless will have. We see only one facet of their worlds.

The Big Meal means to speak universally, but the experiences therein are, to many, exclusionary. Nonetheless, it is a dynamic piece of writing that will facilitate very vibrant stage activity, and director Julie Baz makes sure that her show is an exuberant one. Scenes unfold before us, fast and furious, in a race to the end. We think about mortality, as though a delicious meal that must only be finite. It is noteworthy that Mehran Mortezaei’s lights take us efficiently through each of the play’s dramatic leaps across time, with minimal hassle in the transitions between.

Performances are generally strong, by a crew of actors clearly delighted by the wide range of personalities that each is called upon to undertake. Their transformations are a joy to watch. Cormac Costello and Suzann James are particularly memorable in the final moments, with a tenderness and an emotional authenticity that has us captivated, and touched. Also impressive is Brendan Paul, who plays innumerable boys and men over the course of 100 minutes, proving himself to be an engaging, disciplined and passionate presence.

Talking about death is important. The acceptance and awareness that our lives come to an end, extends our consciousness beyond the self. It frees us to be better people, kinder and more generous in all our dealings. To understand that we are all transient in the bigger scheme of things, could wake us to our duties as custodians of the planet, or at least remind us of the inconsequential nature of all the things we may struggle with, in our day to day. One should be moved to think about legacy, and find inspiration to leave behind something wonderful, or simply to depart having caused no harm.

www.thedepottheatre.com