, Salem, MA


October 18, 2012

Theater of extremes

'Big Love' adapts Aeschylus for a modern audience at Salem State

SALEM — As its name implies, “Big Love” by Charles Mee is a play with a sense of scale.

That was a challenge for director Kate Amory, who had to figure out how to stage it in the 80-seat Callan Studio Theatre at Salem State University.

“To keep finding ways to authentically embody this poetry was the biggest challenge,” Amory said.

Based on “The Suppliants” (463 B.C.) by Aeschylus, the story follows 50 brides, granddaughters of Zeus, who are trying to escape an arranged marriage to 50 of their cousins in Egypt.

In Mee’s version, six brides come ashore on an Italian beach, which the production invokes using 400 gallons of water and 500 pounds of sand.

“There’s a giant pool of water on the stage,” Amory said. “They fall into the water. It’s very non-naturalistic.”

But it is mostly by using an intensely physical style of acting that the production creates a sense of the epic.

“It’s very extreme,” Amory said. “They’re flying through the air and slamming themselves on the floor. The play calls for it. There are scenes where the women are so outraged, they start flinging themselves on the floor.”

Amory, an assistant professor of theater and speech communication at Salem State, has trained at the Trapeze School New York and specialized for 30 years in roles that combine the skills of an actor and an acrobatic aerialist. She drew on this background as she collaborated with students on finding original ways to tell the story.

The intense, physical gestures express issues of personal choice and freedom, which stand in conflict with social and cultural obligations.

“The words fail them, are no longer enough to contain their frustration, outrage and longing,” Amory said, “and it erupts into a more abstract but physical world.

“The chorus of women in an ancient Greek play would create that scope of extreme response through the rhythmic speaking. In our production, (it is created by) the extreme physicality. It erupts out of their bodies,” she said.

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