‘The Big Meal’ symbolically marks San Jose Repertory Theatre’s closure


“The Big Meal” ended its run at the San Jose Repertory Theatre on June 1. The theater declared bankruptcy just 10 days later — making “The Big Meal” its last show ever.

Founded in 1980, the San Jose Repertory Theatre was a Bay Area theater staple for 34 years. The financial woes of the preforming arts nonprofit were known throughout the theater community — notably its $2 million bailout by the city in 2006 — but few expected the June closure.

“We had no idea [the closing show of ‘The Big Meal’] was the last time the lights would go out at San Jose Rep,” said Mark Phillips, a cast member of “The Big Meal.”

Carrie Paff, another cast member of “The Big Meal,” said: “The biggest goodbye … of the experience itself was the shock a couple weeks later that the theater was closed down. It’s somewhere I’ve been working for almost ten years so that was a huge, huge shock.”

The cast is also quick to point out the irony of having “The Big Meal” be the last show at the Rep. The show uses the device of recurring family dinners to chronicle 60 years of time. Though all of the scenes take place in restaurants, most characters don’t eat during the course of the show, and the ones that do, die. It’s not a case of serial poisoning, but a foreshadowing device used in the play. The arrival of a “big meal” signifies the coming death of a character.

As Paff explained: “The sever … delivers a meal with a big clang to one of the characters, and the character who gets the meal starts eating it and everyone else is silent. That becomes a metaphor for death in the play and is repeated throughout.”

Aaron Wilton, another actor in “The Big Meal,” said, “The irony certainly didn’t escape anyone that a play that’s title is a euphemism for death just happened to be the last show [at the Rep].”

Though the San Jose Rep is over as an organization, the theater itself may have a future in the preforming arts, because the City of San Jose owns the building.

Kerry Adams-Hapner, the director of cultural affairs for the City of San Jose, has previously stated the city hopes to keep the theater as a preforming arts venue.

Since Nov. 7, the theater has been home to pop-up stores as part of the San Jose Office of Economic Development’s Pop-Up Project. The temporary boutiques will stay up for the holiday season, and the city council will meet again in January to discuss the future of the building.

Actor Paff hopes the theater will return to its preforming arts roots: “It’s one of the most amazing houses to [preform in]. I’m really, really sad not to play there again.”