50 Brides for 50 Brothers: Battle of the Sexes Ensures in Charles Mee's 'Big Love'

In "Big Love," Charles L. Mee introduced a different kind of "bridezilla." Instead of a demanding bride who is focused on the perfect wedding, Mee presented audiences with women fiercely determined to select ideal spouses...on their own terms.

The University of Houston's School of Theatre & Dance will present the Houston premiere of "Big Love" Feb. 26 - 28 and March 4 - 7 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts' Wortham Theatre (Entrance 16 off of Cullen Boulevard). Due to nudity and mature themes, no one under the age of 14 will be admitted to this play. Tickets can be reserved and purchased at the Wortham box office or by calling 713-743-2929.

Show times are as follows:

  • 8 p.m., Feb. 26 - 27, March 4-6
  • 2 p.m., Feb. 28 and March 7

Directed by guest artist Leslie Swackhamer, "Big Love" (not related to the HBO series of the same title) follows three sisters (Lydia, Olympia and Thyona) seeking sanctuary for themselves and 47 other siblings, who have been promised as brides. In hot pursuit are 50 brothers (their cousins) - the prospective grooms. Leading the males' charge are Nikos, Constantine and Oed.

What follows is a gender war with an Italian villa serving as the battleground and a family (Piero, Giuliano and grandma Bella) caught in the middle.

"Mee's works are always interesting, and this one is no exception," Swackhamer said. "This play is a comedy, but it is extremely violent and very physical. Audiences should expect an over-the-top, visceral experience. It's a wild riff on the permutations of love...the good, the bad and the ugly."

Rehearsals for this play have very much been like a "mad scientist's laboratory," she added. Swackhamer is mixing her own ideas with those from the cast, which includes guest artists David Rainey (from the Alley Theatre) as Piero/Leo and acclaimed dancer Krissy Richmond as Bella/Eleanor. Also contributing to the creative process are UH professors Robert Shmiko, who is serving as dramaturgist and Brian Byrnes, whose expertise in movement is preparing actors for the play's highly physical scenes. Likewise, UH dance professor Theresa Chapman is putting her own unique spin on Mee's work.

"There is much more dance in this production than in Mee's original play," Swackhamer said. "That's the beauty of working on a Mee play. He invites performers to bring new and different things to his works. They are very organic in that sense."

"Big Love" premiered in 2000 at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky. Since its debut, the play has been popular with theater-goers and artists alike. Based on Aechylus' Greek drama "The Suppliants," Mee updated the ancient tale into the 21st century.

Although Aechylus and Mee's plays were written centuries apart, the themes presented in both works remain timeless, Swackhamer said.

"These are themes that are central to the human condition," she said. "They really touch on the differences between men and women, who we are and how we can go forward. Mee's work explores these ideas and is endlessly fascinating."

Other plays written by Mee include "bobrauschenbergamerica" (performed at UH in 2009), "Wintertime," "Belle Epoque," "Vienna: Lusthaus," "Snow in June," "A Perfect Wedding" and "Limonade tous les Jours." Besides "Big Love," he also has composed other works inspired by Greek plays: "True Love," "Orestes 2.0," "Trojan Women: A Love Story" and others. Mee's plays have been performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, American Repertory Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, the Public Theatre, Lincoln Center, the Humana Festival, Steppenwolf and a host of international theaters. He is a two-time OBIE Award winner and is the recipient of the lifetime achievement award in drama from the American Academy of Arts.

The UH School of Theatre & Dance offers bachelor's and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance. Its graduate program consists of a master of arts in theater and masters of fine arts in theater with specializations in acting, directing and design. Each fall and spring, the school produces five plays performed in the Wortham Theatre and the Jose Quintero Theatre, two dance concerts, four graduate directing projects, two Theatre for Young Audiences plays and the Houston Shakespeare Festival each summer. The school has benefitted from notable star faculty such as Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall and Jose Quintero. Among its faculty are Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow and Broadway dramaturg Mark Bly. For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.