The Big Meal – Dan Lefranc and the immutable family. (Theatre Review)
The Big Meal
The Depot Theatre
185 October – 4 November You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Katy Green Loughrey
According to Alain Badiou, Truth is closely connected to Events. Truth is a particular set of statements and narratives originally set off by an Event, and subsequently committed to it. Therefore, Truth is always the Truth of a particular situation. It is the Truth because it speaks from or about the excluded part. A Truth is never identifiable by a positions state – and for Badiou this includes knowledge. However, we must remember a Truth is only a Truth for its particular situation. It is made Truth because this particular part is currently excluded. The Truth of the past is no less true than the Truth of today. It just seems like this, because we are living a today Truth and therefore it is more pressing upon us right now. For Badiou, Truth ultimately comes from practice and struggle. Part of the brilliance of Dan Lefranc’s The Big Meal is his ability to identify one particular Truth (not at its causal Event, but through its journey through time) and make it a universal. We might be watching a white middle class American family play out its Truth, but inherent in our witness is the Truth’s lack. We see this family for what they are through time, but equally we know a universal exists by what is inherently excluded. We instantly know the Truth of the black family next door, the Czech family over the ocean and the gravitational effects of a black hole are experiencing their own Truth as extended from a different Event. Even within this family, various Truth’s present themselves, just as we bring our own Truth to interpretation. Expanse and minutia combine to be a thing. Dan Le Franc’s remarkably contemporary The Big Meal contains its own refutation, making the family presented everything and nothing simultaneously.
Therefore, The Big Meal inherently contains all our versions of Truth. A biological determinist sees his ‘proof’ just as a Feminist sees hers, just as an identifier of prejudice sees theirs. But the Truth of this family is connected to agency. Truth here is about action or intervention. There is no truth as a ‘knowing’ or a ‘contemplation’; rather Truth is acted upon as a subject. To take any situation presented by Dan Lefranc inside the enormous eighty years of this family, and break it down is to reduce its Truth to Knowledge, which can never be Truth. There are certain facts of behavior, but out of context they do not represent the inconsistent multiplicity and the excluded part, and therefore cannot relate to the real nature of a situation. The Truth of this family always exceeds any attempt to investigate it. Surely this is exemplified in the young man who feels frustrated by the inherent Truth of his extended family out of which he cannot escape. It is the definition imposed upon him by the Truth of the family – that as brattish outsider, black sheep and ineffective – that he wishes to escape. However, for Dan Le Franc, his only choice here is death; Or, of course to comply and change his status within the family. For Badiou, this is an inherent rebellion that becomes sanctified in the language of a particular social movement. Frustration with a circumstance drives us to find solace with the like-minded in political groups seeking anything from sexual liberation to lack of land. We face the crises inherent in individuality when the party or group inevitably let us down.
When Julie Baz directs The Big Meal, emphasis is placed on familial warmth, but equally at stake is the inevitability of the horror of the family and its relentless grip over our person. What is not as apparent (more so in Julie Baz’s direction than Dan Lefrancs script) is the slow transformation of the family by other events crowding in over it. Julie Baz emphasises this in her forward to the play in the program and in her costume design which locate the family specifically in the US – something Dan Lefranc does not take as much trouble with, preferencing the American family as a universal. Julie Baz effectively modernizes Lefrancs play and extends its reach by localizing it. We see the ‘problems’ of this family as specific, rather than universal, preferencing social determinism against free will rather than signifying the inevitability of determinism. Lefranc borders on this in his narrative, while Baz is able to build her own Truth into his solid foundation. It’s a marvelous collaboration that creates strong perspectival distinction between playwright and director, to the audiences’ advantage. The beauty of Lefrancs writing allows for the very multiple perspectives he highlights, and the strength of Baz’s direction lies in her further enhancing this over the facts of the narrative. This makes for a thrilling, strong production that is as much food for thought as it is feast for the eyes in the very real time of its execution.
Performances also, are excellent in this production. The direction is playful and light, keeping comedy at the forefront of what can easily become a poignant and bitter sweet tale of sadness and death. Jule Baz has cast strong comic personalities to enhance the transitory nature of the Dan Lefranc’s hinting at permeance. It makes for broader appeal, and a heightened ability to draw all members of the audience closer to Lefranc’s marvelous text. Everyone in the production is great, particularly Dave Jeffrey and Tasha O’Brien who bring a deliberate quirk to their roles that enhances our interest in the characters. Still, it’s hard to single performers out when the entire cast is so comfortable in their roles, confident and engaging to watch; everyone is an adept here. Mehran Mortezaei’s lights and Thomas E Moore’s sound evoke a strong sense of the only thing that does change – time. Plonked on Dave Jeffry’s set (rock solid and timeless) you have another wonderful production for The Depot Theatre who are having a stellar 2017. Make sure you get to see this one – and take a bunch of friends!