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Zeitgeist's 'Big Meal' travels through generations of a family dinner

Richard Hall/Silverline Images

“The Big Meal” serves up a heaping helping of familial dysfunction that touches nearly every human emotion in the spectrum.

Zeitgeist Stage Company’s latest production is a mealtime tale that spans several generations of a family rife with contentious relationships and assorted, yet familiar, challenges like alcoholism, intolerance, infidelity and basic incompatibility. In a nod to the harried pace and waning intimacy of family dinner, playwright Dan LeFranc sets this story at a table in what could be any generic Applebee’s-like restaurant anywhere in the Midwest.

The bickering banter flies fast and furiously as the story unfolds at seeming light-speed. The larger the crowd around the table, the louder the laughs (quite possibly of identification) from the fully-engaged audience.

Like any family dinner, multiple conversations and intermittent squabbles take place while everyone vies to make their point. Director David Miller conducts these lively goings-on with the care and precision of a great symphony orchestra, capturing the multitude of conversational rhythms that make it all seem spontaneous and incredibly authentic.

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And just when you think this is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen, the grim reaper puts a halt to the humor with an emotional wallop that reminds you just how quickly life passes.

Each of the actors plays particular family members at various points in their lives. Peter Brown and Shelley Brown portray all characters in their older years, Devon Scalisi and Becca A. Lewis middle-age, Johnny Quinones and Ashley Risteen young adults, and Alec Shiman and Arianna Reith as children.

With little more than gestures, occasional costume changes and precise transitions, this superb ensemble creates an entire world of lifetimes that evolved from an initial non-committal hookup.

In a stellar, yet understated performance, Lewis feels like the emotional center of the piece. Scalisi is equally impressive in his evolution of a smarmy man. But Shelley Brown, with a simple, aching look of despair, sends you out of the theater on the verge of tears, knowing you’ve seen something pretty special.

If you go

”The Big Meal”

Through March 7

BCA Plaza Theatre

539 Tremont St., Boston

$25 - $30, Wednesday pay what you can

617-933-8600

www.zeitgeiststage.com

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