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In the headlock of Big Love

Strawdog Theatre and Charles Mee's play make a terrific couple.

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You've got to give a little, take a little
And let your poor heart break a little

—"The Glory of Love"

This young couple walked by me as I headed up the street after seeing Charles Mee's Big Love at Strawdog Theatre. They were probably in their late teens, early 20s. The boy put the girl in a headlock and kissed the part in her hair. She laughed, but in a fakey, uncertain way, like she hadn't quite decided whether she should be pissed or pleased. Still, when he let go, she stuck with him.

And there you have it: the paradoxical, not to say creepy, glory of love. A headlock and a kiss.

Big Love draws wisdom from that paradox. An oddball yet deadly serious update on Aeschylus's The Suppliants, it tells the tale of 50 (yes, 50) Greek sisters whose father has promised them in marriage to their 50 male cousins. Rather than go through with the wedding, the sisters commandeer a yacht and head for Italy, where—still in their bridal gowns—they ask asylum of wealthy Piero. Soon enough, the 50 cousins show up at Piero's estate as well. What follows is a comic, tragic, utterly terrific battle that makes The Taming of the Shrew look like the kid's stuff it essentially is.

Matt Hawkins's staging is also terrific. The precisely choreographed cast of 30 (yes, 30) play for keeps—especially those in featured roles, such as the fierce Michaela Petro, the convincingly dangerous Shane Kenyon, the girly-girlish Sarah Goeden, and Stacy Stoltz and John Ferrick as gender warriors who find themselves caught behind enemy lines. Paul Fagen and Cheryl Roy float through in delightful character roles, and Mike Mroch's apparently simple set discloses its value as the show goes along. All in all, this Big Love is a marvel of big ensemble work in a tiny space.

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