Cupid & Psyche
Stark Raving Theater through June 29

This production takes on the somewhat daunting task of retelling the ancient Greek legend of Cupid and Psyche, the first written record of which is found in Lucius Apuleius' The Golden Ass. Since then, it has been reinterpreted in poetry, narrative, and theater throughout the history of western culture. The story begins with Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, and her rage at being ditched by her worshippers for Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world. Faced with the deterioration of her looks, Aphrodite employs her son Cupid to destroy Psyche by piercing her with his arrow and forcing her into love with the lowly servant, Runt.

He is blown away by her outstanding appearance and falls in love with Psyche himself. In an act of timeless cowardice, he commands her to be whisked off into marriage with him in a remote, dark castle, and refuses to allow her to see his face, believing that the discovery of his immaculate beauty will render her love for him false. Naturally, she disobeys him, pisses off Apollo, and lands herself in the underworld, questing to regain Cupid's angered affections.

Stark Raving's production attempts to translate the myth into modern relevance, while maintaining a strict loyalty to the original essence of the story. The production begins like a rock opera, with flashing lights and melodrama, amidst which, Cupid appears as a grungy waif in torn pants, striking up rock star poses. The other characters are comically interpreted by the cast as wry and sarcastic, and the dialogue is peppered with witty asides that serve to "modernize" the story into a recognizably dry and accessible contemporization.

Despite its obvious efforts to update the myth, the script is torn with a fastidious loyalty to the original version, sometimes to a repetitive fault. Throughout the dialogue, the plot is continuously restated, assuring that the audience is well-versed in the plot's origin. The first act suffers somewhat from this over-attentiveness and self-conscious reinforcement.

In fact, so true is the script to the original plotline, that at first the only apparent modernization of it appears to manifest itself in accessorization and window dressing. The mythic gods bitch at each other into cell phones, Apollo pointlessly appears as a flamboyant gay man in a hot pink shirt, Psyche is a sassy and mouthy firecracker, etc. It's an old story in racy new duds, but it doesn't modernize its way into an essentially relevant significance of immediacy. However, it is rivetingly fun to watch and campily clever. Oddly, the title characters do not dominate its focus--in fact there is no readily identifiable star of the show. This is somewhat disorienting, as the lovers have very few interactions between them or chances to develop the chemistry that is essential for sympathetic identification with them by the audience.

However, the second act is almost a complete departure from the first. Suddenly, the dialogue shifts from sarcastic to strikingly poignant and sensitive, the characters bloom into each other, and the story begins to tweak a bit. Far from simply redeeming the apparent aimlessness of the first act, the second half of the production astounds. Mysteriously enough, this also seems to be manifested in radical character evolutions. While initially a bratty and viscous diva, hell-bent on destroying her beauteous rival, Aphrodite transforms into a supportive libber and advocate for the hapless Psyche, attempting to thwart Apollo's vindictive rage. Similarly, Apollo switches out his detached condescension for hell-bent spite and pitiably mortal vengeance. Although it begins shakily, the reinterpretation of this tale eventually succeeds in its modernization and finishes with a gut-wrenching flourish. MARJORIE SKINNER