What happens when a god falls down to Earth and a mortal ascends to the heavens? You get one of the most enduring stories of love wrapped in a myth — Cupid and Psyche, a story from Apuleius's Metamorphoses, which was recently presented by Turn to Flesh Productions at TBG Theatre (312 West 36th St.). Under the helm of playwright and artistic director Emily C.A. Snyder, the theater company re-contextualized a classic legend about Cupid's fabled experience of the trials and agony of love.
We first meet the titular God of Passion when his mother Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) notices the hearts of men are turned away from her and towards Psyche, a mortal woman who would not love. The goddess urges her son Cupid (also known as Eros) to put a spell on her so as to win the world back to love. Determined to carry out his mission, Cupid swoops down to Earth with an arrow poised on Psyche. However, the winged archer soon finds himself falling for the mortal being and kisses her. This riles the gods and before Cupid knows it, he has killed Adonis. As punishment, he walks the Earth as The Beast, forced to kill all lovers in his path, forever searching in vain for Pysche's heart.
Playing gods and mortals is itself not an easy task and only one that Turn to Flesh could achieve with an energetic ensemble: charming leading man James Parenti as Cupid; Erin Nelson as the cerebral Pysche; Kelly Laurel Zekas and Laura Iris Hill as scheming sisters Livia and Dareia, respectively; the sensuous Laura Hooper as Aphrodite; Stan Buturla as their regal father Thanos; Patrick Marran as the confused Chrysos; as well as Parker Madison and Gwenevere Sisco as the deliciously devious duo, Adonis and Persephone. This eclectic cast of characters helped flesh out what those unfamiliar with the mythological texts would view as ancient relics, truly carrying them into the 21st century.
Indeed, it was this vision of modernizing an old fairy tale that even carried over into their costumes. Costume coordinator Emily Rose Parman injected some anachronistic flair into the earth-bound Gods' apparel. For the Goddess' self-proclaimed "rags," Parman had Aphrodite donning lots of lingerie-inspired shift dresses, as well as sexy camisole-and-shorts nighties — replete with a matching silk robe, of course. As Goddess of Death, Persephone was in full-on Victorian dress, with a Gothic twist, making her seem like something out of a production of Sweeney Todd. The mortal lovers wore contemporary clothing, as did Gods Adonis and Cupid: the former in a bomber jacket, wallet chain and heavy boots that would make any punk rocker proud; the latter, dressed simply (as any respectable Winged-Archer-God would), in a streamlined, hipster jacket and jeans combo that would not be amiss in ol' Billyburg. As for young Psyche, she sported free-flowing dresses throughout — ensembles that looked modern, and yet also recalled the simplicity and elegance of Ancient Greek dress.
Furthering the play's modern twist was the music, which punctuated each act with a sweeping, guitar-driven indie soundtrack. As for the staging, Michael Hetzer's multi-purpose two-story set-up represented the worlds of the Gods and the Mortals: upstairs, not only provided entrance for various characters — God or Mortal — but also represented Heaven later on. Similarly, downstairs were the grounds that stood in for the gardens where Cupid and Psyche would meet, which also later provided Persephone's domain, Hades' Underworld. Though simple, the set looked as if it did not coalesce with the play's romantic themes. However, this is more than made up for in Zephan Ellenbogen's beautiful light-bulb fixtures and lighting cues, which were moody and stark, especially during the Underworld scenes in the play's latter half.
They say "love is blind," and this much is true in the case of Cupid, a God who fell for a mortal. As Turn to Flesh's production shows, sometimes falling in love is worth all the pain. If there's anything the story Cupid and Psyche has given us, it is the gift of forever reminding us of the perpetuity of love and its ability to make every one of us — even a God — fallible.
Cupid and Psyche opened at the TBG Theatre (312 West 36th Street) ran from February 13-16. For more information, visit TurnToFlesh.com.