Our lives revolve around the dinner table, declares WaterTower Theatre's latest play, The Big Meal. From celebratory dining out to first dates to funeral wakes, all of life's big and small moments are tied to the ritual consumption of food.
In Dan LeFranc's 90-minute tearjearker, we follow four generations of one family started by Sam and Nikki, who originally meet at the cafe where Nikki is waitressing.
With a switch in lights and sound effects, the pair has gone from first date to anniversary dinner to breakup fight in under five minutes. They part, only to meet by chance years later while out with other dates. Fast-forward again and out comes a ring, then suddenly the screeching of a child a few tables over doesn't sound quite so repulsive. Enter Maddie and Robbie, the couple's rugrats. And that's only the beginning.
Director Emily Scott Banks expertly finds the rhythm of LeFranc's cross-talking script, working well with the sparse set (Darren Diggle), telling lighting (Dan Schoedel), minimal costumes (Sylvia Fuhrken), and guiding sound design (Kellen Voss) to establish when and where we are all supposed to be at any given moment. The music between scenes bridges the moods of both what happened and what's coming next.
The eight-actor cast, as well, switches characters with a hairstyle, a posture change, or even a slight vocal inflection. Garret Storms and Kia Nicole are the young lovebirds at first, then are replaced by Jakie Cabe and Sherry Hopkins.
John S. Davies begins as Sam's racist father, but by the end, he's an elderly Sam, being spoon-fed by Nikki (Lois Sonnier Hart) as she marvels at the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Fun House Theatre and Film alums Kennedy Waterman and Alex Duva play each of those in turn, replaced by Storms and Nicole and Cabe and Hopkins as they age.
It might seem difficult at first to keep track of the family members as different actors inhabit them, but it ends up adding more facets to each character. Seeing how first Nicole, then Hopkins, then Hart portrays Nikki gives her more depth, plumping out what's written as a somewhat generic nagging housewife.
Anyone who's dealt with loss — of a parent, child, spouse, or sibling — will find moments of The Big Meal that nail the emptiness and sense of helplessness that accompany death. Sometimes your family is there for you, sometimes they're not. Sometimes there's someone to clink a champagne flute with, and sometimes you're drinking whiskey neat, alone. Chances are you'll be hungry again soon enough though.
WaterTower Theatre's The Big Meal runs through May 8 in Addison.