News Column

Cupid dies many deaths on Kansas City's stages

June 27, 2013

YellowBrix

June 27--Kyle Hatley, who may qualify for the title of Hardest Working Man in (KC) Theater, is revisiting a play he has been shaping and reshaping since 2008.

"The Death of Cupid: A Whiskey Musical" is Hatley's unorthodox exploration of philosophical questions among characters from Greco-Roman mythology set to a country-blues score. The production opening this week at the Living Room is the third version of the play he has directed since 2008. And he figures it won't be the last.

"It's definitely a show that I hope to revisit every five years or so in my life," said Hatley, the associate artistic director at Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

The play's foundation is "Lysistrata," the comedy by Aristophanes depicting the women of Athens going on a sex strike to put an end to the Peloponnesian War. But he has also introduced the gods as major characters.

"Probably the first time I came across 'Lysistrata' was in my senior year in high school, and it just stayed with me," he said. "I remember coming across it again in college in my senior year. You know, I had the urge to direct it, but I couldn't find a translation or an adaptation that excited me as a director."

So he wrote his own. The first production was in 2008 at his alma mater, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. The following year, he staged a shortened version for the KC Fringe Festival. Now, as a board member at the Living Room, he's bringing the show back to a venue where he has done some of his best work, including Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," which he directed last summer with Mark Robbins in the title role.

Indeed, Hatley's year to date has been back-to-back shows, each one a major undertaking. He played Happy in KC Rep's fine production of "Death of a Salesman" at the start of the year. That was followed by his re-mounting of the Living Room's stripped-down version of "Carousel" at the Rep; Hatley directed the show and played a key supporting role. Next came his physically and emotionally exhausting performance as a coke-snorting casting director in the Living Room production of "Hurlyburly." And now, "The Death of Cupid."

"It's been one long six months for me," he said.

Hatley described "The Death of Cupid" as a continuing work in progress. He still wants to make changes in the second act, but those will have to wait for another time. It's definitely an epic, although Hatley said he hoped to hone the script so that audiences would see a two-hour show including intermission. The first production, back in '08, ran three hours.

"It was so much fun and so crazy, and it was my first experience as a playwright," he said. "And I knew there were darlings in the script I had to kill. In 2009, I realized the Fringe Festival could be an opportunity to test out a leaner version."

The 2009 version incorporated elements of comedy and tragedy and set up a general conflict between the mortals, who as people exercising free will openly defy the supposedly divine gods, and the gods themselves.

"I'm always fascinated by female protagonists," he said. "And Lysistrata is one of my favorites. What a crazy idea: Find peace by cutting out sex altogether. The more you read about the Greeks and how large a role the gods played in their lives, I thought it would be really interesting to see what the gods think about Lysistrata's plan. In my retelling that's one of the more original ideas."

The show requires such an enormous cast -- about 34 actors and musicians -- that it can be done only in academic settings. Or with non-union actors and Equity members willing to work cheap.

The company Hatley assembled for the Living Room production includes some of Kansas City's best-known performers -- Vanessa Severo as Aphrodite, Katie Gilchrist as Khaos and Natalie Liccardello as Athena, plus Rusty Sneary in a cameo as Hades. Veteran Forrest Attaway appears as the Magistrate and Shawnna Journagan as Lydia.

He has also tapped some of the city's brightest younger actors -- Megan Herrera as Lysistrata, Emily Shackleford as Calonice, Melissa Fennewald as Ismene, Emma Taylor as Agatha, Matt Leonard as Cinesius and Kyle Dyck as Lamachus.

Musical director Eryn Bates, performing on keyboards, leads a full band. And Severo is choreographing.

The music hasn't changed, but this time Hatley said audiences could expect a bigger sound.

"I think what I've done with Eryn's expertise and the expertise of the people in the band is create something richer," he said. "In 2009 we had a very stripped-down sound. That felt like all I needed for the Fringe production, but this time around I wanted to see what we could learn from the biggest band we could get."

On tap for the show are piano, drums, upright bass, two guitars, an accordion, a fiddle and maybe a banjo.

"And someday I would kill to have a horn section."

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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(c)2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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