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GAME OF LOVE: Original script ‘I’m With Cupid’ opens TheatreNOW’s 2017 season of dinner shows

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TheatreNOW officially kicks off their 2017 season with Ron Hasson’s original script, “I’m With Cupid,” just in time for Valentine’s Day. Directed by Penelope Grover, Hasson’s script explores the possibility that Cupid, or Eros (Chris Lewis), as he wants to be called, could fall in love with a mortal in the modern world. Apparently, his marriage to Psyche is over (one must assume he is now a widower given the amount of time that has elapsed), and he is lonely.

the PLAYERS: (top, l. to r., clockwise) Mark Deese, Chris Lewis, Kire Stenson, and Emily Gomez. Photo by Zach Hanner

THE PLAYERS: (top, l. to r., clockwise) Mark Deese, Chris Lewis, Kire Stenson, and Emily Gomez. Photo by Zach Hanner

Enter Circle of Friends, a dating service staffed by Rae (Kire Stenson). In this business, the God of Love looks like the ultimate product to push! At least that is Rae’s take on the matter. Of course she hasn’t factored in why it is the God Of Love is still single after 4,000 years. Apparently, he has unresolved mother issues. But wouldn’t you if your mother was Venus (played by Emily Gomez)?

Gomez’s Venus is vengeful, angry and behaves like a diva. One moment she revels in the love and adoration of her admirers, the next she spews forth catty, snide disparagements aimed at the “mere mortals” around her. She’s a mean girl crossed with a controlling parent. It is unnerving. Don’t get me wrong, she is beautiful. I just sort of wish the Goddess of Beauty espoused inner beauty as well.

Poor Rae is caught in the middle of all of this. She is obviously falling for Eros, and who wouldn’t? He is the God of Love, after all. She is at war with her own ambition (this is the ultimate marketing gig after all)— and like everyone, her own insecurities. So imagine her shock when Eros tells her he has fallen in love with a nature-loving poet (Mark Deese) and taken on the form of a beautiful young girl (Wesleigh Neville) to woo him. She’s sort of like Ariel from “The Little Mermaid”: a stunning red head with very little to say but a certain naïve charm.   

Under Rae’s direction, Circle of Friends sets up a series of speed-dating encounters for Eros that include a serious gym rat (Chris Shchatzle), a psychotic moral majority activist (Marie Chonko), and a diaper-obsessed janitor (Ron Hasson) among others. If this is speed dating at it’s best, then may the gods have mercy on poor mortals. 

Lewis has an interesting take on the God of Love: tall, handsome, and charming when he wants to be. Of course, he has had a different set of experiences from mortals, so he is a little conceited and does view the world through his own lens. But the incredibly childish tantrums he throws whenever his mother appears are exhausting. God or no, it is unclear how anyone could consider a second date with this guy, let alone stay with him for a lifetime (or eternity). Still, everyone can relate to his nervousness when the object of his desire walks in the door. Love feels like throwing up? Yes, sometimes it does.

Rae’s role of the supportive friend secretly pining for the very person she is trying to set up with someone else also hits close to home. Who hasn’t been there? She blends the subtext under the businesslike exterior really well. 

Mark Deese as the nature-loving poet has all the awkwardness of the would-be sensitive guy-type blended with insecurities of trying something he’s never contemplated before. Life (even for immortals) should be about walking out on a limb and trying things unimaginable. If it’s not scary, maybe you are not doing it right.

If anything, and you’re lucky enough to share life with someone you love, “I’m With Cupid” will reinforce that sense of gratitude. I give Hasson credit that neither the script nor the resolution follow the usual arc of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, and they discover the magic of love to conquer all of life’s ills. That is not to say that it isn’t filled with love, kindness and, even in the presence of the gods, a considerable amount of human psychology. Grover works well with the performers to bring the subtext of the script to heighten the non-verbal communication so paramount to the game of love.

If you are sharing the show with a special Valentine, Chef Gordon has put together a meal to remember for this dinner show. The light, fluffy scallops over gnocchi on a bed of buttery vegetables literally melts in the mouth. Gordon has a deft hand with vegetables, as the sautéed spaghetti squash and spinach layers with tomato sauce testifies. The portobello mushroom baked with mozzarella is a vegetarian’s dream dish—filling and inventive. Don’t eat a late lunch as the meal is filling, and you will want to lick the plate. Gordon tops off the experience with a cake decorated with conversation hearts—Valentines Day’s best treat.

Chef Gordon’s meal caps off a lovely evening of fun performances and an entertaining script. It’s a different, welcoming way to spend Valentine’s Day. Perhaps at a time when our humanity is challenged, Valentine’s Day can offer a chance to remind us who the people are that make us want to be better people.

I’m With Cupid
Through Feb. 18, Fri. and Sat., 7 p.m. Special dinner show on Feb. 14
Tickets: $16-$39 with discounts for students, seniors and military
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th St.

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