Psyche transcends boundaries of story-telling

Interpretive play leaves some viewers in the dark.

Psyche is a dive into the world of mythology, where physical and psychological limited are pushed, and where love reigns supreme over logical and mortal boundaries. The piece was a student-devised production inspired by the classical myth of Psyche and Cupid. Directed by visiting Crake Fellow in Drama Mike Griffin, the piece was collectively developed by  Ian McMullin, Kaitlin VanKoppen, Anna Shepard, Kennedy Lundberg, and Samantha Bixby.

The piece was made up of brilliant individual parts. It was built upon expressive, perfectly timed, and powerfully evocative choreography that was expertly executed by the cast of four dancers. The characters immersed themselves fully into the performance, moving with ease between their various roles. Their movements were emphasized by the light and shadow play that served as innovating framing devices to help viewers navigate the performance, and served to highlight the moral ambiguity of the piece.  The set moved fluidly between the construction of a setting and its deconstructing into props. The piece was tied together by flawlessly mixed music, with each part of the montage setting the mood, and filling the audience with hope, dread, and anything in between.

However, despite all of these expertly conceived parts, something was slightly amiss with the whole. 

The performance seemed at times to be too abruptly fragmented, and because the plot was filled with so many different sequences, the storyline was ambiguous at best.  The lack of dialogue made the connective elements between events in the plot unclear, and it was easy to lose track of the characters because most actors played two interchanging parts. 

Audience member Erik Sin noted that while the performance was “really visually appealing,” the plot was too obscure. 

“I found the story really difficult to follow. And the story line I was able to follow I found very misogynistic and creepy.”

However, not everyone shared Sin’s perspective. Luke Trainor was moved by the performance, and it left him at a loss for words.

“Psyche was unlike anything I had seen,” said Trainor.  “[…] Although I was not familiar with the story, the sharp actions made by the flawless cast to music would somehow pull thoughts out of me, which resulted in me making up my own story to the play—which proved to be more relevant in my experience as a spectator. Words can’t quite capture the feeling that this play created.”

In many ways, this speechlessness and this disagreement between audience reactions was precisely what Griffin and his team hoped to achieve.

“It’s more about what you see the story as, rather than what I’m telling you in my director’s note,” said Griffin. “Because it’s so image based, it’s about what you as an audience are seeing, rather than having a prescriptive sensibility of ‘this is what I’m supposed to think it is.’ […] I’m much more interested in sitting in the questions than giving all the answers.”

Griffin and the company are right to dismantle our reliance upon clearly outlined and explained artistry. Theatre should both give and require something of its audience, and by leaving the performance intentionally ambiguous, Psyche gives the viewers a degree of creative and interpretive freedom. In this sense, the entire process—from production, performance, and viewership—becomes an interactive creative exercise.

However, although room for ample interpretation was the most interesting part of Pysche, it was also paradoxically the most limiting element of the piece. The performance occasionally felt inaccessible, and I found myself repeatedly—even tiringly—trying to make sense of the scenes I’d just witnessed. As soon as I thought I’d made a sensical connection, something would occur to destabilize my imagined storyline. I would have benefitted from an outline of the myth in the program, and the show could have benefitted from a larger cast.

I’m not principally adverse to this kind of artistic practice, nor am I unfamiliar with it. But the works I find to be most effective are those that leave enough hints for the viewers to connect the fragments—leaving room for mistakes and ambiguity, but allowing moments of logic to arise. For me, these connective hints did not occur frequently enough in Psyche

But this was, incontestably, the most important element of the performance: the part where I say “for me, it was this way, ” and someone responds to say that they had a drastically different experience.  The discussion and disagreement the piece generated, coupled with its visual and technical proficiency, made this performance not only memorable, but a significant achievement and innovation for Windsor Theatre.

This article has been updated to correctly state the author’s view on the size of the cast.

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