For director David Miller, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal is a bit of familiar territory; Miller moonlights as the owner of a bed-and-breakfast called Encore, which he operates out of the top two floors of his historic South End home. The comings and goings, meals shared, stories told—these facets of family life also serve as the foundation of LeFranc’s play, where entire lives fly by at the tables of classic American restaurants.
“You really get a sense of how fast and brief life is when you’re not really paying attention to it,” Miller says of The Big Meal’s impact. “Usually plays are just a cut of a life. This is a whole lifetime in 90 minutes.”
Not just one lifetime, but several. The Big Meal introduces audiences to an extended family’s journey over five generations. Eight actors portray 26 characters, covering about 60 total years. The actors themselves also consist of a range of ages, from a boy and girl in their teens, to adults in their twenties, forties, and sixties. The pace is quick, with audiences required to constantly play catch-up—and that’s the point. Miller relished the challenge of directing such a convoluted production, and employed unique strategies to organize the cast during rehearsals.
“It was very much like a musical score, with me setting timings,” he says. “We spent a lot of time on timing and tuning, especially in [dialogue between characters]. Many of these scenes have four, sometimes six characters talking at the same time. It’s very true to life, but it’s very challenging for the company to get it right.”
Despite the ambitious nature of the play, Miller believes the struggle was worth it. “The cast has been wonderful. There’s been a great sense of discovery and exploration.”
Since opening night, Miller has observed that the feeling of discovery seems to be shared by the audience as well—or rather, a feeling of rediscovery, of life’s fleeting nature and the importance of family.
“I hope when audiences leave, they want to call their parents or grandparents to just say hi,” Miller says. “If they leave the theater and [feel that]…then I think we’ve achieved something.”