News Column

Seton Hill offers update of Greek classic [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

November 15, 2013

YellowBrix

The wedding-day tradition of "Something old, something new ..." appropriately explains the origin of Seton Hill University Theatre and Dance Program's production of "Big Love," which also happens to involve brides and bridegrooms -- 50 of each, to be exact.

The contemporary work by Charles Mee (the "something new") is a poetic adaptation of ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus' "The Suppliants" (the "something old"). The premise of both plays is that 50 brides flee to a manor in Italy to avoid pre-arranged marriages to their 50 cousins. The play moves the time period of the original Greek play into modern times.

Outlandish? A bit far-fetched? Maybe, but guest director Melissa Hill Grande says audiences will enjoy the Seton Hill show on several levels.

"Like its ancient Greek predecessor, the stakes are high for the characters, the themes are timeless, and there is music and dance," she says. The contemporary aspects, including action, modern music and modern vernacular, make it more accessible to a modern audience.

"Also, it moves fast -- about 90 minutes total -- and there are lots of surprises and reveals packed into that short time frame," Grande says.

Layne Bailey of Wexford portrays Thyona, one of the brides, whose personality is described as "a stereotype of the angry feminist."

"She is a headstrong, independent woman who will always say whatever is on her mind. She really is a fierce character and loves a challenge. Thyona chooses to do whatever, and I mean whatever, it takes to try to save her sisters," says Bailey, a junior musical- theater major at Seton Hill.

Bailey finds that keeping "in the moment" when she's onstage but not involved in conversation to be her biggest challenge in portraying her character.

"A lot of the script is broken down into monologues," she says. "During those scenes, I can't let myself drop out of the moment. Thyona is always on the defense, ready to go. Even in the moments where she isn't talking, she is thinking, reacting, discovering, preparing. I have to make sure that I keep Thyona there even when she isn't speaking."

Joshua Reardon of Peters plays Constantine, one of the grooms in "Big Love" and the eldest of three brothers.

"He is a complex character with a rather jaded past that has affected his current persona," says Reardon, a freshman musical- theater major. "If you could imagine one of the Kennedys with a personality, that's who he is. He has a short fuse and a big temper, but it is shrouded with an elegance and calmness."

Brittany Lamb, of Suffolk, Va., a senior musical-theater/acting major, is working hard to perfect her portrayal of Bella, a 70-year- old Italian woman who has 13 sons and owns the house that the 50 brides and 50 grooms think is a hotel when they stumble upon it in Italy.

She says her biggest challenge is "just getting across that I'm not actually a 21-year-old American. Of course, makeup and my costume help, but I like to play it all the way through. So I focused a lot on my body movement and the Italian accent."

The director says her cast is doing a good job of becoming their characters.

"The students haven't experienced the situations that the characters are working through, so connecting to the desperation and extremes in the play has been a big part of their jobs," she says.

Grande spent five years as associate artistic director of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre and was a co-founder of Phase 3 Productions.

Also in the Seton Hill cast are Domenic Jungling and P.J. McMahon of Gibsonia, Gregory Messmer of Jefferson Hills, Stephen Ray of Greensburg, Katelynn Reist of Cleona, Sienna Sears of St. Louis, William Smolter of Glenshaw and Veronica Vento of Pittsburgh.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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