Philip Larkin’s “Arundel Tomb” ends with the famous reminder, “what will survive of us is love”. It’s a beautifully sentimental line, belied by the four devastating stanzas which precede. Such is the case with Charles L. Mee’s demented rom com BIG LOVE, now in a dramatic staging at Villanova Theatre. Based upon a 2,500-year-old classical Greek play, BIG LOVE tells the story of 50 brides who show up at an Italian mansion, fleeing their 50 cousins/potential husbands. By adapting the piece to modern times (it premiered in 2001), Mee gives historical sweep to the subjects he considers. Although the play ends with the uplifting joy of a romantic comedy, that is preceded by a brutal (at times literally) take down of marriage.
Mee focuses on three of the fifty brides: Lydia (Sophia Barrett) is not opposed to all marriage, just this unwanted marriage (“I would like to love the man I marry”; “So would we all, and sometimes we do for a while”); Olympia (Meghan Winch) wants the letters and sodas which romance brings (“I’m not a helpless victim—when I paint my nails… I think it’s fun, and I think I’m an equal in the game we play”); Thyona (Hallie Martenson) hates men (“You think you’ve found this man’s good side—men don’t have good sides”). Thyona’s betrothed, Constantine (Kyle Fennie) spouts a misogyny that’s just as hateful. However, Nikos (Mitchell Bloom) really loves Lydia. Mee’s script brings up serious, age-old issues: rape, marriage as a prison, equality of the sexes. But he, and director Harriet Power, are unsure how seriously to take these subjects and how much to just have fun. The climactic post-wedding scene, choreographed by Alex Cordaro, is beautifully twisted. What survives for us is love. [Vassey Theater, 800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA] November 11-23, 2014; theatre.villanova.edu.