Bates to present modern adaptation of ancient Greek drama

Peter Richards, director of the Bates production of “Big Love.”

New York City-based director Peter Richards helms the Bates College production of Big Love, a modern adaptation of an ancient Greek drama, in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 1-3, and Monday, Nov. 5; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3-4, in Gannett Theater, 305 College St.

Admission is $6 for the general public and $3 for students and seniors, available at batestickets.com or by calling the box office at 207-786-6161. For more information, please call 207-786-8294.

Playwright Charles Mee’s inspiration for Big Love was the ancient Greek drama The Suppliant Maidens, in which 50 daughters of an Egyptian king flee Egypt to illegally avoid marriage to their cousins.

Transposing this plot into modern times, Big Love raises issues of gender politics, love and domestic violence as Lydia and 49 of her sisters flee from Greece to an Italian manor to avoid a similar marriage arrangement with cousins.

“There is so much to engage with in this play,” says Richards. “There’s comedy, drama, singing, dancing, over-the-top theatricality. And there are moments of simple sincerity and silence.

“There’s something for everyone. And it’s all about love!”

“The more outlandish the show gets, the more immediate its impact,” wrote New York Times reviewer Alvin Klein. “For here is surprise, astonishment and adventure, restored to theater.”

Richards, a stage and television actor, knows the playwright through their work together on another Mee piece. In Big Love, he says, Mee is exploring “a way of being in the world with other people that is quite a bit different from how many of us live our lives.”

It’s a style of living that’s immediate, sensuous, uncomplicated, loving and fearless — “it seeks to explore the whole of life, including the ugly parts, and embraces life as a series of spontaneously appearing opportunities,” the director says. And that view of life as something unplanned is reflected in Mee’s narrative structure, Richards adds.

Big Love affords a fun challenge for the performers. “It’s an extremely physical play,” the director explains. “Actors fling themselves onto the floor, throw things, jump on each other, sing, dance and otherwise express themselves in ways unlike what people often expect to see in the theater.”

Richards and Bates connected through Opera House Arts in the Maine town of Stonington, where he has directed five productions in recent years. Doing design work for the company was Bates’ managing director of theater and dance, Michael Reidy.

In New York City, Richards has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and American Repertory Theater, among other companies. His television credits include roles in Law and Order: SVU and As the World Turns. He’s a founding member of the Brooklyn-based experimental theater company Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant.

Bates students performing in Big Love include seniors Caroline Ulwick of University Park, Md., Travis Jones of Ithaca, N.Y., and Charley Stern of Riverwoods, Ill.; juniors Brittney Davis of Chicago and Chris Makrides of Cape Elizabeth; sophomores Hanna Allerton of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Nick Auer of Fairfield, Conn.; and first-years Allie Freed of Magnolia, Mass., and Sam Myers of Riverton, Wyo.

Nancy Salmon, assistant director of the Bates Dance Festival, is also a member of the cast, playing opposite her husband, Maine state Rep. David C. Webster.

The production features choreography by Carol Dilley, associate professor of dance and director of the college dance program; and scenic and costume design by B. Christine McDowell, associate professor of theater.

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