Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Cupid and Psyche: Sprightly Musical Comedy
This is the one about the goddess Venus getting all out of sorts because the people of Illyria have ignored her and allowed her temples to fall into disrepair because of their love and fascination with the gorgeous and radiant mere mortal, Psyche. The pouting Venus orders her son, the god Cupid, to go to Illyria and use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with a dreaded Cyclops, and then to loose his arrows on the people of Illyria to cause them similar pains. However, upon seeing Psyche in all her beauty, Cupid falls in love with her and brings her to his palace. As a mortal, Psyche is not allowed to be with a god. So, in the adaptation at hand, Cupid cloaks himself in invisibility, so that Psyche will not know who he is while he courts her. Eventually, Venus will interfere, initially for ill and eventually for good.
Librettist Sean Hartley has designed Cupid and Psyche to be performed by four actors. Gaining equal footing with the cross-species lovers is Venus herself, who is here a sarcastic, domineering mother trying to keep her son single and under her domination. The quartet is rounded out by the god Mercury who is comic sidekick and gofer to Cupid. As this role is smaller than the others, the occasionally self-referential script informs us, the actor playing Mercury plays each of the subsidiary roles.
Liz Zazzi as Venus with her arms intact is this production's delightful top banana. Whether warning us in song that you "Don't Mess With a Goddess" or revealing her frustrated oedipal yearnings for Cupid, Zazzi is at her zany best. Ryan Reid (Cupid) and Pheonix Vaughn (Psyche) are charming and likeable as the young lovers. Their performances naturally capture the casual attitudes of modern youth while permitting us to accept them as variant versions of their mythological roles. Especially delightful is their performance of the lilting musical highlight "Trust Me," which finds Cupid teaching Psyche how to dance. Ron De Jesus' choreography makes a solid contribution here. Michael Maricondi has a deft comic touch as Mercury, a god who allows himself to be treated more as a manservant because of both his immature boyishness and affection for Cupid. A typical sample of the play's humor is when Cupid, hiding his identity while courting Psyche, passes off Mercury as his servant "Jeevicles." The story, which hews very closely to the mythological original, also finds Maricondi playing Pan, Cerberus and several others to good comic effect.
Jihwan Kim's music is pleasantly melodious, and encompasses a wide range of styles including Larry Hart era Richard Rodgers, a ballad with a light rocking beat, calypso and several other stops along the way. Sean Hartley's lyrics are literate and amusing, and sit well on the music. Musical Director Nancy Lee's piano accompaniment is so full of verve, color and detail that it becomes one of the production's highlights.
Director Alan Souza directs with a light touch, maintaining a good pace throughout. Jessica Parks' lovely and expansive unit set encompasses marble columns, a circular platform, stairways and an impressive electrical display.
This reviewer first encountered Cupid and Psyche in an hour long staged reading eight years ago. It was pleasant then, and it is even more so now in a version which has been newly expanded for this production. Still, it remains an intelligent, small scale entertainment whose essential appeal is to a specialized audience. As such, it has now found a perfect home at the intimate and enterprising New Jersey Rep.
Cupid and Psyche continues performances (Evenings: Thursdays-Saturdays 8 p.m. / Sun. 7 PM; Matinees: Sat 3 p.m./ Sun 2 p.m.) through January 18, 2009 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.
Cupid and Psyche. Book and lyrics by Sean Hartley; music by Jihwan Kim; directed by Alan Souza