REVIEW: The Big Meal (American Theater Company)


Finger Lickin’ Good!


Emily Leahy, Philip Earl Johnson, Lia D. Mortensen, Noah Jerome Schwartz in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

American Theater Company presents
The Big Meal
Written by Dan LeFranc
Directed by
Dexter Bullard
American Theater, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $20-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

By the time an average person is 50 years old, he will have consumed over 50,000 meals. Annual sit-down celebrations to drive-through-minivan-feasts, big and small life moments revolve around sharing food. American Theater Company presents the world premiere of The Big Meal.

Andrew Goetten, Lindsay Leopold in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.A server checks out her last table and goes home with him. Their casual hook-up leads to dating. The courtship heats up to love. The intense affection spirals into indifference. They break-up. A chance encounter leads to make-up sex. They get engaged then married. Their romance is a whirlwind… of minutes! The evolution of Nicki and Sam’s lives are illustrated by quick snippet scenes around meals. Initially, it’s just the couple. Later, it’s their parents and children. And not much later, it’s their children’s children. Fifty plus years of bite-size morsels make two lifetimes. The Big Meal is a hearty entrée of life with all the fixings.

Playwright Dan LeFranc penned a meaty story about family. With some prime choices casted, Director Dexter Bullard flame broils it to perfection. Eight actors, from kids to seniors, play multiple roles. Always at the table, Nicki and Sam are played by six actors at various life stages. They age, change and don’t change. It’s the reality of relationships over time. The brilliance of the sustenance is the subtle and distinct flavors. Seeing multiple generations interacting through the years is seeing the whole family tree through the forest. There are the small discoveries, like his dad was a racist so he tells off-color jokes. His mom drank, so he drinks. To bigger moments, she was ignored by her grandpa and her father so she has dysfunctional relationships with men including her son. LeFranc uses overlapping dialogue to create an organic experience. Bullard stages it with tables and chairs continually revolving. The volume and pace are chaotic life happenings. The level of activity halts abruptly for poignant moments to showcase a person’s ‘last supper.’ It’s the all-you-can-eat life banquet with heaping helpings of love and death.

Noah Jerome Schwartz and Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company. Lia D. Mortensen, Will Zahrn, Peggy Roeder, Philip Earl Johnson in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

This talented cast provides a buffet of tasty moments. Collectively, they mesh family style. Individually, they seamlessly morph into someone else. A particularly entertaining transformation is Andrew Goetten playing four different boyfriends in a four minute span. Lindsay Leopold is hysterically neurotic as the youngest version of Nicki. The chemistry between Lia D. Mortensen and Philip Earl Johnson as the midlife couple is well-balanced angst and contentment. Will Zahrn embraces multiple personalities with flourish going from prick to party guy to curmudgeon. Peggy Roeder makes hilarious side comments and then ends the show in a powerful silent haunting visual. Noah Jerome Schwartz and Emily Leahy play several versions of precocious kids delightfully… because they aren’t yours.

The Big Meal is life ordered off the menu. Thought provoking! Knowing preservatives don’t keep anything good indefinitely, ask for the specials but get what you want out of life. And definitely look at the dessert menu. The Big Meal, reservations recommended!

Rating: ★★★½  

Peggy Roeder, Will Zahrn, Lia D. Mortensen, Philip Earl Johnson in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

Lia D. Mortensen, Peggy Roeder, Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company. Lia Mortensen and Emily Leahy in The Big Meal at American Theater Company.

The Big Meal continues through March 6th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm . Running Time: Seventy-five minutes with no intermission


REVIEW: Conviction (Maya Productions at Theater Wit)


Strong solo performance resuscitates lagging script


Ami Dayan playing Andres Gonzales in 'Conviction' by Oren Neeman.

Maya Productions presents
Written by Oren Neeman
Performed by
Ami Dayan
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $18-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Conviction, adapted from the novel “Confession” by Yonatan Ben Nachum, is based on true stories from the time of the Spanish Inquisition. In a time when Catholicism was the sole accepted religion – if you chose to ignore the rule it was punishable by death – the story of a Catholic priest renouncing his vows to marry a Jewish woman is a story worth telling.

Maya Productions, based in Colorado, has brought their production of Conviction to Theater Wit. Featuring Ami Dayan, Conviction is a one-man show retelling this compelling story.

The set consists of a black background on which actual Spanish Inquisition trial documents are projected. Very little set pieces fill the stage, save for a single desk and chair, a kneeler and a stack of black boxes. The rest of the stage is left bare, allowing the story to fill up the space, leaving ample room for Dayan to move around.

Conviction tells the story of Andrés Gonzáles (Ami Dayan), and is split between a 1960’s interrogation of a man who stole documents while researching a genealogy project, and Gonzáles confessing the sins of his story to his fellow priest and long-time friend in the fifteenth century. As the show begins, it’s clear that Dayan, though on point and very well prepared, is not immediately accessible. It feels like there’s a wall up between Dayan and the audience which has to be broken down. Over the course of the show, it eventually is, but it’s taken down brick by brick at times in the beginning. Once Dayan switches from interrogator to Gonzáles in the confessional, he really hits his stride and his characterization opens up to the audience.

Dayan is completely devoted to his character and his performance. He morphs into his character, shedding his actor persona and embodying fully the persona of Gonzáles. As he connects more to the audience,retelling the story of Gonzáles’s secret love affair with the Jewish woman Isabel and how he eventually renounces his role as a priest to marry her, he’s charming and intriguing. Dayan performs not only with his voice but with his whole body and his very animated facial expressions that help portray both the emotions and the actions of the story.

Despite Dayan’s powerful performance, however, the show tends to drag at points. Particularly in the beginning, the action is slow moving and dense. As Conviction progresses the action does begin to pick up the pace as Dayan settles into the character of Gonzáles, and becomes more captivating, moving the action along.

Rating: ★★½

Conviction plays at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, through February 20. Tickets cost $27.50 and can be purchased by calling 773-975-8150.