Theater and Love. A Valentine’s Day Appreciation


Can any theater define love the way so many songs do?

The musical “Aida” did for Starleisha Gingrich.  “As an African American woman dating a man who is half Irish and half Eastern European, I connected with the love story between Radames and Aida right away,” she says. “To imagine a love so strong that you’re willing to sacrifice your life to be with that person for all eternity….that gets me.”
Gingrich was one of several who answered the question, “What play has most defined love for you,”  for my recent ticket giveaway contest.
 Sarah Crane’s “Crave” did it for “bisexual vegetarian Buddhist” actor-director Jon Jon Johnson: “Love is far more complex than we give it credit for, and Sarah Kane’s brutal honesty on the darker aspects of love showed me the full spectrum. We cannot only hold on to the ‘good’ or ‘nice’ aspects of love; we must also embrace the obsession, bitterness, and the chaos that love entails. I think it can be summed up in one quote:

“Only love can save me, and love has destroyed me.”

August Wilson's Jitney, in Portland
August Wilson’s Jitney, in Portland

Actor Oge Agulué was struck by a scene in August Wilson’s Jitney: “Rena confronts Youngblood about being absent from home and possible indiscretions. As it turns out, Youngblood was out securing a new house to move their family out of the projects. It speaks to me because he’s not just “saying” that he loves Rena, he’s “showing” how he loves Rena. He’s sacrificing his time, talents and treasures to give his family the best. It’s a snapshot of their day to day living rather than a forced proclamation of love. And I appreciate that it acknowledges how flawed we are: even when we think we’re doing good, we might not recognize the pain that we’re causing. Love is a struggle and there’s no handbook.”

Playwright Eddie Antar picks Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. “It blew me away how this man refused to play the “act” of love and held out for the real thing. How it almost cost him his marriage, but how he just couldn’t be inauthentic or untrue to his standards. Love how deep he went in that play.” Antar has written a collection of plays entitled “Full Frontal: A Naked Exploration of Sex and Sexuality,” which will be performed starting April 3 at the WorkShop Theater Company. It has no nudity and no explicit sex a la Intimacy. “The material amounts to a journey, plays that travel through different stages of maturity and development. It starts with two kids stumbling through their first time in the back seat of a car. It ends with a middle aged, middle class Jewish woman who is transfixed by the sight of this young Latin man she spots on a subway platform.”

Many plays define love for playwright Emily Snyder: “Our Town is about the love of little things, the ordinary, the beauty of every day.  But if you’re talking romance, I’d point to the lush classic romances as my favorites: Romeo and Juliet (when performed well), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which is hard to perform poorly), Cyrano de Bergerac (heartbreaking), and I’m going to throw Peter Pan in there mostly because he was my five-year-old boyfriend and the scene when he steals Wendy away to Neverland is just…well, I’m still waiting, Peter!  Also An Ideal Husband, because I’m a fan of plays that show what happens after “happily ever after.”  There’s so much more romance in struggling to keep your vows than in impetuously rushing towards them.”

Cupid and Psyche, at HERE
Cupid and Psyche, at HERE

Snyder has created her own play about love, entitled “Cupid and Psyche,” which runs at HERE for five performances beginning tomorrow, including Valentine’s Day. It is based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche.  Cupid was not always the mischievous little cherub with the bow and arrow.

 “The Greeks and Romans thought of Cupid as a young man, a hunter-warrior, who was sent on missions by his mother to make mortals fall in love.  But as the Renaissance painters started drawing cherubim with arrows to represent innocent affection, and this idea was appropriated and popularized by the sometimes overly sentimental Victorians, we now have the concept of a chubby baby in Pampers in charge of our collective hearts.  I’m pleased to say, Cupid and Psyche returns to the first, considerably more virile impression of the god of Love.”
Since she sounded as if she knew what she was talking about, I asked whether there was a similar transformation when it came to Valentine’s Day.
“The legend goes that St. Valentine, a priest in Rome during the persecutions of Claudius II, was caught and imprisoned for marrying Christian couples (since administration of Christian sacraments was considered a crime).  After he was caught, Valentine attempted to convert the Emperor, for which he was put to death.  Some variations of the legend – including one from the thirteenth century – mention that before his execution, Valentine healed the jailer’s daughter, restoring her hearing and her sigh.  He left her an encouraging  note on the day of his death, signed, “Your Valentine.”
“Little is known about the historical Valentine (in fact, martyrologies of the time list three), but certainly the Middle Ages clung on to him as the champion of Love against impossible odds.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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