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Photo: Chris PlevinAndrew Goetten and Lindsay Leopold in Dan LeFranc's The Big Meal at American Theater Company

The Big Meal at American Theater Company | Theater review

Playwright Dan LeFranc tracks the progress of an American family in its natural habitat, the restaurant.


LeFranc’s remarkably affecting new play finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, following generations of an American family through its gatherings around restaurant tables. Central couple Sam and Nicole are played by young charmers Andrew Goetten and Lindsay Leopold when they meet-cute at the restaurant where she’s waiting tables; by the time they get married, the roles have transferred to the slightly older Lia D. Mortensen and Philip Earl Johnson. Peggy Roeder and Will Zahrn first show up as Sam’s parents, but end up as the aged Sam and Nicole. The younger actors (including kids Emily Leahy and Noah Jerome Schwartz) keep returning as new generations march along.

This simple but remarkable device lends great heft to those small, inexorable moments of family life: first dates, fights, breakups, reconciliations, meeting the parents, birthdays, remembrances, memorials—all those things we do around the dinner table besides eating. (Though the family members spend plenty of time looking at menus, they never actually order; in fact, LeFranc and director Bullard turn the arrival of a meal into an arresting theatrical metaphor that I won’t spoil, except to say it had audience members gasping with dismay at the appearance of a server.)

LeFranc makes our 90-minute tour through Sam and Nicole’s life feel both specific and universal, while Bullard and his exceptional ensemble keep the action smooth and clear. “We really started something, didn’t we?” Nicole asks herself upon meeting her great-granddaughter. The Big Meal urges us to savor every bite.


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