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“Bigger Than I” is Bigger Than All Of Us

by Karen Tortora-Lee on June 13, 2009

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Bigger Than I

… my mom grounded me for getting a speeding ticket … so I peed in her shampoo …
… I only make friends with ugly people …
… I am sleeping with 2 married men  … I am a married man myself …
… I will die NEVER having been loved …
… I dread coming home to my daughter and husband every day …

Wow.  Heavy stuff.  Stuff I did not make up. Stuff that can be found on a confessional website  where people unloaded their deepest secrets anonymously.  Secrets that were then gather up, assembled, and made into Bigger than I, written collectively by Counting Squares Theatre, directed by Nick Sprysenski and currently playing at UNDER St. Marks.

I have a personal blog that I pen under a pseudonym, where I refuse to mention my friends by (real) name and where pictures of us are obscure and vague … and far between.  Not like I blog about particularly intimate stuff, but my line of privacy is drawn in a very different place than it is for others, and therefore I don’t need random not-quite-strangers somehow connecting things about me to … well … me.  It’s one of the reasons I resisted joining Facebook for as long as I did, and the reason that I obsessively clean up after its annoying little habit of inserting babbles and who-the-hell-was-asking?-observations on my wall: “Karen joined Facebook”.  ”Karen and Stephen are now friends”.  ”Karen joined the group neighborbee.”  ”Karen added  … bla bla bla!”  how about “Karen erased all the entries Facebook cluttered up her page with.”  Yeah.  How about that one?  So, clearly, while I don’t mind writing to be read, I’m a bit fanatical about too much information reaching the world at large.  However, under the cloak of anonymity I think it would be rather freeing to tell all my secrets, knowing that there would be no repercussions from friends, family … the world wide web.

The same goes the other way, of course.  Sometimes your friends have secrets that are better left untold.  I once said “Never ask someone a loaded question without being prepared to hear the answer”.  Because once you know something you can’t ever un-know it about that person.  Bigger Than I is based on this theme … in fact one of the last lines of the show is “Would you run the risk of knowing something you really didn’t want to know?”  But let’s start from the beginning …

Michael Barringer (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Michael Barringer (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Bigger than I starts off as a crazy jumble of words, actions and choreographed moves … a blast to the senses, almost like a (oh, I get it now!) Human Internet, speeding toward you at 100 miles an hour.  The entire cast is on stage babbling, singing, almost Monty Python like, but not.  However, soon enough they quiet down and one scene runs seamlessly into another.   I don’t, however, want to give you the impression that this show is a sketch comedy show … it’s  much more than that.  It’s a winding path, a labyrinth,where things don’t lead to the place you though they would, and where some times things pop back up again from before but now there’s no telling what secret will be told or what the repercussions will be.

Early on, one vignette takes place in a confessional and (as a Catholic who spent many childhood years whispering through that lattice) I immediately understood that there’s been a need to confess your secrets (or sins) as early as there has been language; whether in the dark to a disembodied priestly voice or nameless by keyboard onto a website … or even into a camera knowing your face will be indistinguishable.  And that’s what Bigger Than I presents flawlessly.  Honestly, this was a near-perfect piece of theatre; every single actor was engaging, convincing, and unexpectedly versatile and the writing had the amazing ability to have me laughing loudly one moment and close to tears the next.  I was astonished at how close both emotions hovered near the surface, with each scene change I had no idea what was coming next.

The multimedia aspect worked well here.  (I’ve been to several shows lately where it was just more noise).  The projected partial faces of people spilling their secrets seemed completely unscripted, bare, raw.  Some of the secrets were incredible to hear; some of the secrets resonated.  In fact, more than one of the secrets resonated, but of course I can’t say which ones.  That’s MY secret.

While one or two of the vignettes are a tiny bit confusing the entire show is filled with thoughtful, funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes amazing moments … with a few “ah ha!” twists thrown in that left me in awe.  I’ve been to a number of ensemble pieces lately but, without a doubt, this was the first one where each member of the company was brilliant, where the writing hit the mark each time, and where I actually would like to thank each member individually and by name:

Michael Barringer, Matthew Greenbaum & Chris Worley (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Michael Barringer, Matthew Greenbaum & Chris Worley (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Ryan Nicholoff, Dena Kology, Edward Davis (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Ryan Nicholoff, Dena Kology, Edward Davis (Photo credit: David Cumming)

Michael Barringer (actor and writer), Edward Davis (actor and writer), Matthew Greenbaum (actor and writer), Dena Kology (actor and writer … and a whole extra noteworthy effort as the only female in the cast ), Ryan Nicholoff (actor and writer) Chris Worley (actor).
And all the contributing writers not already mentioned:
Jarred Baugh, Shannon Beeby, Michelle Foytek, Joshua Chase Gold, Ben Hope, Kurt Jenkins, Aaron Kirkpartrick, Melody Kology, John O’Malley and Nick Sprysenski (who also directed).

This was a superb ensemble piece about a difficult topic.  ln the wrong hands it could have been a one trick pony, but this team managed to layer truth and honesty into scenes that will make you cringe, cry, laugh, and ultimately, that will make you nod your head in recognition of yourself.

The production is presented by Horse Trade Theater Group and Counting Squares Theatre and will play at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st and A) until June 20, (Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm).

Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or by going online:

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