It’s About Love
J.J. Gatesman’s romantic stage drama The Beauty of Psyche is about many things. There is danger and sacrifice. Nearly every character is in WAY over his or her head for one reason or another. There's real drama in that. More than anything, though, it’s about love. Staged the Underground Collaborative for one more weekend, Gatesman’s adaptation of the classic story of Eros and Psyche gazes into love from many different angles.
In the role of Psyche, Abigail Stein plays a woman who must fall in love with a voice and a silhouette. What’s worse: the woman she’s playing has been taken captive by a monster. So there’s a whole...Beauty and the Beast/Stockholm Syndrome thing going on between the God Eros and the mortal Psyche that the script has to overcome in order to ultimately deliver a very compelling romance.
We get a brief introduction by the intoxicatingly excited Kellie Wambold in the role of Pan. Aside from that, a crucial early stage of the play requires that Stein play romantic lead to a shadow cast across a sheet and the voice resonating from it. (That’s Eros as played by Josh Decker.) There’s novelty in the set-up between a divine silhouette and a woman that’s interesting to watch, but it must be incredibly daunting for an actor to try to convincingly fall in love with the shadow of her captor.
Stein deftly renders the title in her performance. There’s an earthy, organic beauty about her...clever expressiveness in her face and her voice that connects the audience to romantic love with a god. So she doesn't seem at all like a victim even though it's essentially what defines her early on in the story. So Stein is beautiful and a prisoner without being a victim. Stein’s able to do this without a hint of exaggeration, which is as a huge accomplishment for her, Decker AND Gatesman.
Romance is incredibly difficult to bring across onstage. Love is complicated enough without having to worry about blocking and lighting and all those things that make the stage an unnatural place. Gatesman finds the perfect pacing to keep an interaction between god and mortal believably moving into greater and greater intimacy. It feels totally natural when she finally tears down the sheet and embraces him.
Decker does quite a job as well. He’s playing a god who is totally burdened with his own divinity. He feels real romantic love for the first time, but he has NO idea how to deal with it. This is a god dealing with emotions of and for a mortal...so he’s GOING to come across a bit beastly. There are all kinds of direction this could be taken in that would distract from the essence of the romance. To his credit, Decker holds steady and allows the moment to render itself around him...which is exactly the way a divine god would likely handle a situation like this, so it feels really, really believable.
Sympathy for the Antagonist
Audrey Thompson-Wallace plays Eros’ mother--listed in the program as “Rose.” She love her son and knows that he is falling for a mortal. She wants to spare him the heartache of falling in love with something so fleeting, so she tries to keep him from her. When we first see her, there’s an icy cold superiority about her, but Thompson-Wallace radiates warmth beneath the brutality. Gatesman allows Rose and Eros mother and son time that heartbreakingly renders the maternal love that is forced against her son’s romantic love of a mortal. Again--Gatesman does a really good job with the overall pacing here, allowing Eros and Rose just enough time onstage to firmly establish the conflict between Rose and Psyche. She's not domineering. She's caring. She's also cold. (Nobody's perfect.)
And There’s Other Love
Eros and Psyche get separated. In order for Psyche to reunite with him, she must embark on a quest for a few things. The impossible feats that she’s engaging in aren’t really the focus of the story, so they don’t get a whole lot of time onstage...what’s important here is that she learns to find the love of friendship with Pan and her ants. (It’s hard to explain...just see the show. It’s cool. Trust me.) Wambold is whimsically exasperating as Pan...so the real challenge for Psyche is to find a way to relate to her in order to collect what she needs to reconnect with the god she loves.
So we have romantic love, maternal love...love for companions. There’s also real love for storytelling going on here. It’s a show in a basement that’s been lovingly crafted for very, very small audiences. There’s a deep intimacy here that seems to be embracing love itself from a cozy, little basement downtown. Romance isn’t done nearly enough on the small stage, but The Beauty of Psyche goes beyond romance. It’s a play about love. Gatesman and company do a really good job of bringing that love out of the shadows and into the hearts of anyone interested in showing-up.
A Fool’s Enigma’s The Beauty of Psyche closes this weekend at the Underground Collaborative. There are just two performances left: Sep. 14th (Friday) and Sep 15th (Saturday.) For ticket reservations and more, visit the show’s page on Eventbrite.