Ever feel like your love life is cursed? Like some omniscient being is screwing with you just for laughs?
“Sappho in Love,” written by Carolyn Gage (“Ugly Ducklings,” “Second Coming of Joan of Arc”) and directed by Katy Conley, is a comedy that takes place during a time when human fate was completely in the hands of trickster gods and goddesses, and love lives could be in shambles with the wink of Athena’s eye. The island of Lesbos becomes the playing field of lesbian lovers entangled in a power struggle among three competitive goddesses: Aphrodite, the goddess of love ? or, more accurately, lust — (Molly Vanderlin), Hera, the goddess of marriage (Laura Spring) and Artemis, the goddess of celibacy (Leonie Dolch). In an uproarious fashion, the three of them strive to control the hearts of all women by attempting to gain the heart of Sappho, one of ancient Greece’s most controversially renowned poets, who is famous for opening a prestigious school for women on the island of Lesbos as well as for her romantic poetry. “Sappho in Love” explores the complications of lesbian relationships with the most insightful attention to tenderness and infatuation, and it does so with amusing hilarity.
Aside from its message, some aspects of the play are at times almost too cheesy to handle. The unembellished set could have almost been taken as minimalistic — however, the plastic-like palm trees and rocks were just too simplistic. At times, the dialogue feels a bit forced, and the professions of love and power tend to lag. However, this melodramatic aspect could be written off as poetic license. After all, Sappho’s romantic poetry embeds itself into characters’ monologues to create an air of classical romance.
Gage’s writing provides a steady stream of jokes and innuendos, particularly from Aphrodite, whose constant sexual puns are delivered so casually they almost go over viewers’ heads. In fact, hardly a minute goes by that the theater does not fill up with laughter. This play is no doubt rich in humor, which presents itself in forms that go beyond just dialogue; hilarity is even present in elements such as interpretive dance and costume choice. All of this taken into consideration, the play’s moments of cheesiness can be taken as a tribute to true ancient Greek comedy: nonsensical, but entertaining and wildly pleasing to the audience nonetheless.
Although “Sappho in Love” may initially come off as irrelevant to our culture’s modern concept of romance, it soon becomes abundantly clear these fictional goddesses do indeed represent the internal struggles of contemporary relationships. We have all felt, at one point or another, moments where love is completely out of our hands. We have all experienced that sense of powerlessness spawned by infatuation and the overwhelming feelings of desire that tend to spiral out of our control. As one of the characters, Persuasion (Nikki Weinfurtner), servant of Aphrodite put it, “Women in love are useless.” This is a sentiment typically used to stereotype women as emotional, irrational beings — a stereotype that still holds in our society. However, “Sappho in Love” ultimately dispels this myth, and the three goddesses soon become parallels that represent the components of a woman. Passion, commitment and integrity are the qualities that work together to form a working relationship.
Although enjoyable and witty, “Sappho in Love” is definitely targeted at — to be perfectly candid — older women. This observation becomes evident as the play toys around with the ideas of marriage as a form of slavery and of sexual experience as developed by women in later life. “Sappho” is a constantly entertaining production, and audience members will hopefully walk away feeling more empowered than when they walked in.
“Sappho in Love” is running at the Bartell Theatre through Feb. 27.
3 stars out of 5.