Directed by Susan Kerner, Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance brings Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal to the L. Howard Fox Theatre stage, which for this production is set up as a theater-in-the-round.
The extremely fast paced play stars Montclair’s Acting majors and takes place entirely in a restaurant. After Sam and Nicole meet, their relationship takes off quicker than they expect and they are soon greeted by children Robbie and Maddie seconds after they refuse to have kids.
The casting is clever. There are four male and female acting duos that each represent certain age levels, ranging from newcomer freshmen Jessica Nesi and Misha Osherovich who always play the children to juniors Jordan Anton and Tony Antoniou who always play the elderly. We first meet Nicole and Sam as twenty-something adults portrayed by juniors Angela Borrello and Tayler Yarish. As they and the rest of the characters age, they each move up a level in the cast with smooth quick switches.
A standout is junior Elena Barone, who plays Nicole for a majority of the play and eventually adult Maddie and then adult Jackie, Robbie’s daughter. Her actions, including her facial expressions, are natural with believable sincerity. Senior Thomas J. Foy, who plays Sam and eventually adult Robbie, is also a delight.
When the family corresponds with each other, the audience is often treated to loud cacophony in their raised voices, which can be a bit harsh to the ear and difficult to comprehend. However, this cacophony could also mirror the conversations of normal family gatherings and serve as juxtaposition to the silent, solemn moments of the play.
Susan Kerner often incorporates color symbolism in her productions, especially in regards to costume design. For example, Nicole is always dressed in red and Sam in blue, for every actor and actress playing them. Not only is this artistically appealing, it also helps the audience know which performer in now playing which character. These designs are attributed to junior costume designer Becky Erlitz.
The 80-minute play covers many everyday familial occurrences within 70 years, from happiness to hilarity to heartbreak, so take a seat and have a bite. It is truly brilliant.
The Big Meal will be showing through May 6.