The Big Meal

Rebecca Varidel
22nd Oct 2017

"In a typical restaurant, on a typical night, the extraordinary story of an ordinary family."

Well I didn't know what to expect when I read the blurb for The Big Meal. Except to think that it would be a sterling production. The shows at intimate inner west Depot Theatre always are.

Expectations are funny things. From the blurb and the poster I had visions of long drawn out conversations around a restaurant table, had envisaged the play set over one night, and not expected this portrayal over 80 years and five generations.

"Whatever made you tackle such a difficult play?" I asked Director Julie Baz. She wasn't sure how she'd come across it; she'd found it online she thought. Thought about contacting the playwright Dan LeFranc to localise the mid-west US references to Australia and then decide not. Better that way, I feel. Some of the American comments make the statements stronger as they leave us more in the condition of outside observers, I conjectured.

The Big Meal is actually nothing extraordinary in its subject matter. It is in fact about an ordinary middle class family. And delivers entangled stories about all the things that many people experience in conventional middle class life. It's about love, marriage, parenthood and more.

What is both different and difficult is the streams of overlapping dialogue, and the pace of multi-generational vignettes, sometimes even within one scene. Fresh out of acting school Brendan Paul plays five characters in just one.

Eight actors each span the generations. Sam and Nicole first meet in the typical mid-west restaurant and the rest in its red white and blue colour scheme is history, as they say...

Characters, lovers parents grandparents, children siblings cousins, are each portrayed by more than one actor.

Handbags and other costume accoutrement provide clever continuity across the years.

Central to the success of this production are performances by Kaitlyn Thor who embodies both the multi-dimensional triumphs and tragedies of the feminine in each word, tone, expression, silence, stance, and action; Angus Evans who as an adult open heartedly delivers the authenticity and spontaneity of early childhood; through to Cormac Costello and in her return to stage Suzann James together spanning grandparents to great grandparents with poise and delicate sensitivity.

The whole cast, as individuals and in their entirety, faultlessly step through each moment, and each year, delivering consecutively both heart touching and heart wrenching drama.

Quintessentially what Baz captures in the pulse of The Big Meal is deeper than the script; the cast under her direction embrace a plethora of emotions that the trials and tribulations of family and in fact life can bring and the Depot Theatre show doesn't skip a heartbeat. Brilliant.

To be truthful while I thought the play was indeed brilliantly executed I found it quite painful. It touched some kind of deep hurt within me. Without context of understanding, long without my own immediate family, it touched both raw nerves in what I had and had not experienced in life. The sense of loss it created was as much about these ordinary things that I have never known. Yet most will relate.

Many will know these scenes that will have touched either themselves or their loved ones directly.

What is The Big Meal? No spoilers here. You'll have to watch the play to find out.

The Big Meal is on at Marrickville's Depot Theatre until Saturday November 4th.