Playwrights' Perspectives

Dan LeFranc on "The Big Meal"

Perhaps because my parents both worked in the service industry, my most vivid memories of family take place around laminated menus and sampler platters. Like many Americans, we spent a lot of time going out to eat. I mean A LOT. So often, in fact, that many of these places came to feel like an extension of our living room. We laughed, cried, and fought like crazy for an audience of countless waiters and diners. My face still goes red at the thought of some of our more colorful performances, especially the ones that ended with our being asked to please leave the table. We were, suffice it to say, a very theatrical family.

Now I've written this play that takes place in a restaurant and tells the story of a big noisy family over the course of several generations, the inspiration for which I guess is fairly obvious. However, as is probably true of all art, the play is also an expression of what obsessed me over the period of time I wrote it -- the great joys and disappointments of my parents' marriages; the genetic time bombs set to detonate inside each of us; the wonderful and weird relationships I have with my siblings; how much I look like my dad; the dizzy bliss of falling in love; what happens to parents when their kids become parents; the way the familial pecking order shifts; family and friends who have fallen ill; how death brings countless lives to a halt; how my grandmother lights up when I finally come to visit; the way I've come to know and respect certain family members so much more since they've passed away; how terribly guilty I feel for not having made more time, for not having made it really count with each and every one of them.

And so I guess somewhere in all of that is The Big Meal. Everything I think I know about family and life up until this point, crammed into a little play. To paraphrase something John Steinbeck once wrote to a friend about his latest novel, "Nearly everything I have is in it, and still the box is not full."

--Dan LeFranc, December 2011