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'The Death Of Cupid' Reinterprets The Sex Strike Of Aristophanes' 'Lysistrata'

With the opening this week of The Death of Cupid at the downtown performance space The Living Room, author and director Kyle Hatley is revisiting a play he's been refining since 2008. Its eternal themes of peace, war and sex have its roots in ancient Greece but still maintain a relevance to what the world looks like today.

Around 400 B.C., Aristophanes wrote the play Lysistrata, a comedic fable about how the Greek women of the time withhold sexual favors from their war-hungry menfolk in hopes the plot would bring about an overdue peace.

Epic Proportions

Kyle Hatley used the story as a springboard for his own interpretation for The Death of Cupid, commissioned six years ago by his alma mater, Rhodes College. He suspected even then that it had legs but didn't need an epic three-hour running time.

"I wanted to keep working on it because I knew it wasn’t a three-hour piece," Hatley says. "I knew it was a two-hour piece. I knew it could be leaner, and comedies always want to be lean; they don’t want to be long. 

"But I also knew it could be more muscular. As funny as it was going to be, it was also going to be aggressive in its themes and its characters’ attacks on each other and I think the Fringe Festival is a wonderful opportunity to explore those cuts and changes and rewrites."

Sands of Time

Indeed, the show was given a staged reading at the Unicorn Theatre prior to its appearance at the 2009 Fringe Festival and returns yet again this week at The Living Room. The first floor playing area has been covered with 5 1/2 inches of sand, and at a recent rehearsal, several barefoot actresses are in character, chatting about how their sex strike may be coming to an end.

The play juxtaposes the bedroom politics of its mortal characters with those of such mythological icons as Aphrodite and Khaos. The latter is played by Katie Gilchrist, who explains why she has been with the show through the reading, the Fringe, and now this version.

Khaos Reigns

"I like seeing plays that have strong women as the backbone of the story," Gilchrist says. "I like telling stories that humanity can relate to but especially when a group of women is affecting change in a positive way. It's very empowering.

"It is stories like that that our young women all across the board – and young people in general – need to see. It's plays like this that maybe let us believe - in the thousands of years since it's been written - that not much has changed but everything could change."

"The people who should see it are the ones who won't come," Gilchrist adds. "That's frustrating but then again, it's our responsibility to say the things other people are afraid to say."  

World Wars

Since the play's inception, international events have shifted, run their course, and shifted again. Kyle Hatley says that is the reason the play should and will evolve.

"What it meant in 2009 is different from what it means now," he says. "It feels more like a living document than anything in that every time I work with it I'm going to be fussing with it and recreating it for the time we live now. "We're kind of exhausted by our own internal national anxiety, our own internal tragedies, especially in the last year: the school shootings, the bombings, this ongoing perpetual anxiety about how we fit into the world and what is our real role in it. It will always have a place because unfortunately war will always have a place. Hubris will always have a place in our society."

Due to the show's mature themes, The Death of Cupid is recommended for audiences over 16. It also carries the appendage A Whiskey Musical, an invented phrase that speaks to Hatley's hope that the show feel a little like everyone in the room is a bit intoxicated.

The Death of Cupid: A Whiskey Musical, June 26-July 14, The Living Room, 1818 McGee, Kansas City, MO, 816-533-5857.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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